Government support for unaccompanied asylum seeking children coming into Cambridgeshire not meeting costs involved, says new county council report

Amanda Askham, director of improvement and development at Cambridgeshire County Council, has written

Amanda Askham, director of improvement and development at Cambridgeshire County Council, has written a report to the commercial and investment committee alerting members to pressures on the care budget. Picture: CCC - Credit: Archant

Government support to help pay for the cost of looking after unaccompanied asylum seeking children coming into Cambridgeshire is not meeting the full costs involved, says a new report.

Amanda Askham, director of improvement and development at Cambridgeshire County Council said: “There has been a significant increase in numbers of unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASC) over the last two months.

“The council receives fixed government grants to fund accommodation costs and support care leavers however this income has not increased in proportion with the UASC population.

“Additionally, the majority of recent arrivals have been placed in high cost placements due to the unavailability of lower cost accommodation.”

Ms Askham will tell the commercial and investment committee that other higher than expected costs involving care are putting pressure on council budgets.

“Within children’s services, numbers of children in care remain at around 100 higher than expected based on the performance of Cambridgeshire’s statistical neighbours,” she said.

“These higher than anticipated numbers in care has resulted in continuing overspend in directly related budgets – those associated with placement costs, supervised contact and transport costs.”

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The director will also report that the foster placement capacity both in house and externally “is very stretched by demand both locally and nationally

“The shortfall in appropriate fostering provision is increasing the numbers of children requiring residential placements which cost around four times more than equivalent fostering placements.”

Ms Askham says that ongoing reductions in grant from Government have to be weighed against the continuing demand for services with the most vulnerable increasing significantly.

“Throughout the year adults’ services has seen increased demand for services from both older people and people with learning disabilities, above the level expected when budgets were set,” she said.

The council had been successful through early help in constraining this demand and reducing the proportion of over 85s in service.

But it remained true that the level of services required by people is rising, putting pressure on the health and social care system (locally and nationally).

She said: “This rising demand is pushing up unit costs of care which has put pressure on budgets in the second half of the year.”

Within the learning disability partnership demand for services is rising as more people are discharged from inpatient units into the community as part of the Transforming Care agenda.

Efforts to constrain costs are taking longer than anticipated, she said, and “the considerable impact on care budgets of this demand for services continues to be mitigated through funding provided by central government, but demand has continued to rise in the second part of the year”.

Her report says that within children’s services the county council has seen a 13 per cent increase in pupils with education, health and care plans (EHCPs) between September 2017 and September 2018 and a 20 per cent increase in pupils attending special schools over the same period.

The increases, which are in line with national trends, have caused pressures on all elements of the special educational needs development (SEND) budget.

“The increasing number of pupils with EHCPs has also resulted in an increased pressure on the home to school transport special budget.

More pupils with SEND are being sent on more journeys with significant distances involved which in turn add to transport costs.

Miss Askham added: “An increase in complexity of needs has also contributed to this pressure with more pupils needing specialist equipment or passenger assistants to assist their travel.

“This is against a backdrop of a challenging transport market with quoted costs for routes being significantly higher than in previous years.”

The director’s report says the county council is continuing to explore “every avenue to identify further efficiency or to bring in more funding to the local economy and public sector”.

She cites the Fairer Funding Campaign involvement as one step the county council is taking, arguing for Cambridgeshire to receive a higher and fairer allocation of national funding for education, social care and a range of other services

The county council has also applied to be pilot area for the Government’s Business Rates Retention Scheme – which would allow the council to reinvest the output of local business growth in local public services and infrastructure.

And the council was working in partnership with Peterborough City Council on shared services where it will lead to better outcomes for service users

But she added that “the number and scale of the pressures on the organisation which are not directly controllable continues to increase”.

Her report will be discussed on Friday by councillors.

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