Agenda item

December Financial Planning and Medium Term Strategy Report 2018-2023

Contact for Information:Hamant Bharadia, Assistant Director Strategic Finance;Tel: 0207 926 9153, hbharadia@lambeth.gov.uk

 

Minutes:

The Chair, Councillor Liz Atkins, noted that it was unacceptable to run local government on shoestring budgets, with central Government’s planned cuts forcing Lambeth to find an extra £43m saving over the next three years, with a £12m reduction to Children’s Services.  There was a need to ensure frontline services were protected from cuts, that early help continued and residents received the help they needed.

 

Annie Hudson, Strategic Director for Children’s Services, gave a presentation to Members included as background papers for this item.

 

The Chair, Councillor Liz Atkins, then noted the Overview and Scrutiny’s (OSC’s) recommendations expressing concern at the level of service changes, impacts on the most vulnerable and the need to increase in-house foster care.  All Children’s Services Scrutiny Sub-Committee Members shared concern at the level of changes and Lambeth’s ability to achieve proposed savings, highlighting the £8m savings required in non-staffing service transformation.  

 

In response to questions from the Committee, the Deputy Leader (Children and Young People), Councillor Jennifer Brathwaite; Annie Hudson, Strategic Director for Children’s Services; Cathy Twist, Director of Education; Tony Parker, Director of Commissioning and Improvement; and, Michelle Hayden-Pepper, Interim Director of Children's Social Care, responded:

·           The demands on CSC were considerable, but officers believed that the proposed changes were deliverable through tight and careful programme management, although additional capacity was needed. The Council’s Chief Executive, Andrew Travers, agreed that a strong programme management approach was required.

·           The numbers of children in care had been significantly above statistical neighbours, but had fallen and was now fairly steady over the last 12 months, at around 400-420, which was comparable to other similar inner London boroughs.

·           There were large numbers of teenagers coming into care (in common with other London boroughs) and there were concerns that care did not provide consistently good outcomes for this group of children, with outcomes for children coming into care at a relatively young age and/or who stayed for long periods being generally better. 

·           The concern regarding the Council’s ability to improve fostering performance was understood, but the proposals were different to that of two years ago when Lambeth was rated inadequate and failed to grow fostering as pledged. 

·           Neighbouring boroughs had higher proportions of children looked after cared for by in-house carers; in Lambeth this stood at around 25% of all children fostered being with in-house carers.  There was capacity to improve both recruitment and retention; and a key element of the revised strategy was that a one-Lambeth approach would be crucial to deliver new targets.

·           The one-Lambeth approach would involve schools, health services, councillors, and other partners; and the delivery of the Strategy would be regularly discussed and monitored at the Corporate Parenting Board.

·           Teenagers were expensive to place in care and were often placed with private providers, which meant significantly higher costs whilst not always improving outcomes for young persons; instead, social workers needed to work with families to get children back home, in extended families, or within the wider community.

·           Commissioning was often market-led and it was challenging to find provision for young people.  The aim of future commissioning was to work together with other boroughs and partners, such as the South London Commissioning Programme, which would lead to significant savings and to better wraparound support services, such as mental health services.  This would enable children to feel safe in a cheaper placement and halt escalations to higher cost placements. 

·           The South London Commissioning Programme would go live in April 2019, but a rethink of local provision, closer inter-borough working, and the Looked After Children (LAC) Commissioning Strategy were all needed to reduce costs.

·           Officers would supply the Committee with details on savings for monitoring.

·           Complaints raised at the recent Forum had been listened to by the Assistant Director for Children Looked After and reflected in the fostering paper presented to the Corporate Parenting Board.  In addition, the Deputy Leader (Children and Young People) noted that officers were open to discussion, knew shortcomings and were eager to overcome and improve.  Further discussion would take place in January with foster carers who shared the Council’s ambitions to be one of the best boroughs for fostering.  The Assistant Director had also met foster carers to hear their views and proposals to improve performance, and crucial to success would be strong marketing capability in order to attract carers who might otherwise work in the independent sector.

·           The Regional Adoption Agency could impact on placement costs, but these were likely to be relatively small.

·           Frontline was a new fast-track social worker scheme; with participants taken on as postgraduates, with a consultant social worker taking on four trainees for a year, after which Lambeth agreed to employ them for at least a year post qualification.  The Frontline national programme was funded through the Department for Education (DfE) and the contract was for just one year post qualification.

·           Good career progression pathways were essential to retain social workers.

·           Lambeth had taken on 13 newly qualified social workers and was looking to recruit another eight in March 2019, but it needed experienced social workers to be social work educators.

·           The Children in Care Council (CiCC) attended Corporate Parenting Board and took part in the Fostering Recruitment Strategy discussion, and were to be invited to a special meeting in spring 2019 with foster carers to discuss the proposed Strategy.

·           Social workers would stay if the conditions they operated in were supportive of good practice, properly supervised, in a pleasant working environment, with low caseloads (with Lambeth at the low end of London average, averaging at 15 per social worker), and retention was therefore about more than salary.

·           The retention of social workers was a London-wide problem. Whilst some boroughs had key worker housing, most Lambeth staff commuted in utilising Brixton’s excellent transport.

·           Lambeth was competing with a locum market where social workers could earn significantly more.

·           The Pause Project would work to support the most vulnerable women who had repeated numbers of children removed from their care; whilst significant savings were not expected nor large numbers of persons impacted, it was hoped to have a positive long-term impact. The chance of having subsequent children removed, once one children had been removed, was over 50% after 18 months, and it was important to find different ways of supporting and helping women. 

·           The Early Help Service relied significantly on the Troubled Families Grant programme, which was anticipated to end in 2019/20, and there was much national concern and petitioning to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) who funded the programme regarding concerns that this would lead to the potential national collapse of early help.

·           The above challenges were factored into the redesign of Lambeth’s Early Help approach with a major restructure of staff (primarily through reducing vacancies) and their deployment, and link-up with universal services such as schools, voluntary sector, and other partners.  The Streatham pilot would shortly extend to Tulse Hill, and would be kept under review.

·           The spreadsheet (agenda pack, page 43-44) detailed savings, with placement savings divided fairly evenly over four years as the staff restructure and different operating procedures needed to be embedded to impact on cost.  In other areas, such as Procurement and the re-commissioning of Youth and Play, more savings were front-loaded.

·           It was noted that some Year 1 saving targets were larger than they appeared as they included savings agreed in previous years.

·           Effects on frontline services, staggering cuts differently, and risk were under review; however, early savings, such as in Youth and Play, generally comprised building and maintenance; but reviews had reduced some Year 1 and increased Year 2 savings, such as in the Youth Offending Service (YOS).

·           The placements savings for year one were now lower than previously to take account of changes needed in Fostering and Placement services before benefits were realised.  This would be regularly reviewed by senior management to ensure Lambeth was not overspending.

·           The average independent fostering placement was considerably more expensive than in-house foster caring, and so there was a need to invest in recruiting and marketing to ensure delivery of a good service, but it would be challenging to deliver the necessary budgetary cuts.

 

RESOLVED:

1.         To note and endorse the recommendation from OSC (Recommendation 4) regarding the level of service changes proposed in Children’s Services and the impact this could have on the borough’s most vulnerable residents, as well as the feasibility of delivering the savings proposed. CSSC requests that progress reports on achieving saving targets and impacts on our most vulnerable young people be brought to this Committee on a six monthly basis.

2.         An action plan on fostering should be developed with stakeholders and monitored by this committee. There should also be engagement with the Children in Care Council and their views sought on the Fostering Strategy, along with other strategies affecting children in care.

3.         The committee should be updated on progress in reducing agency workers through Frontline and other council/local initiatives.

4.         The Committee records the importance of continuity of care to young people in care and encouraging new social workers to stay in Lambeth.

5.         The committee notes the welcome commitment to the Pause project and the help to women who have repeated removal of their babies into care.

6.         The committee notes that the early help service funding ends in 2020 and recommends that there be a review of the new model of service with which it will be forced to operate and associated reduced staffing.

 

Supporting documents: