Potential council cuts could put children at “significantly higher level of risk of harm”, report warns

Councillors will debate options to cut the Children's Services budget at County Hall next week. Pic:

Councillors will debate options to cut the Children's Services budget at County Hall next week. Pic: Mike Page. - Credit: Archant

Children could be placed at a 'significantly higher level of risk of harm' if councillors accepted a key option that could help Norfolk County Council cut its budget by a quarter, a report has warned.

James Joyce, chairman of the Children's Services Committee.

James Joyce, chairman of the Children's Services Committee. - Credit: Archant

The council has to find £111m of savings over the next three years, but departments have been asked to identify potential cuts of £169m between them to give councillors a range of options to chose from.

Those highlighted in a report to next Tuesday's Children's Services Committee include drastically reducing the number of children in care, from the current figure of 1,049 to 420 - half the level of similar councils.

The report said: 'To enable this members would potentially need to accept a significantly higher level of risk of harm to children, and this increased risk profile would need to be agreed and adhered to across the wider Children's Services partnership.'

However, the report said with a rising population, a national trend of more children being taken into care, and problems the council already has reducing the number of children in care, 'it is not considered possible to deliver this level of change'.


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The report said that an alternative target of reducing the budget to 84pc of current spending would still require the number of children in care to be cut to 560.

James Joyce, chairman of the Children's Services Committee, said that a focus on helping families before their children reach the point of needing to go into care would not result in big savings for five to 10 years.

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He said: 'We can't put children at any more risk than they are at the moment. Increasing the risk profile is something I would not support.'

Asked if other council departments should take deeper cuts to lessen the impact on Children's Services, Mr Joyce said: 'I believe the most important thing society does is to make sure that the next generation that follows us has the best opportunity.'

The report also said the council would have to 'significantly reduce' the work it does in the education system.

The reach the 75pc target, the report said 'the educational make up for the county would have to be predominately academies', while the 84pc target 'would still require a higher number of academies within the county'.

However, this would see the council's Education Services Grant cut.

Asked if the financial situation outlined in the report could lead to the council pushing for more schools to become academies, Mr Joyce said: 'It's for governors to look at what they believe is the best way forward for their school.'

The report also signalled that plans to cut transport subsidies for college students could be back on the agenda.

What do you think? Email martin.george@archant.co.uk

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