£3m overspend warning as children’s costs rise

The cost of caring for looked after children is rising
The cost of caring for looked after children is rising
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A surge in the number of children in Blackpool needing specialist residential care is contributing to a predicted council overspend of more than £3m, with £390,000 a year being spent on just one child in some cases.

The number of looked after children has risen to 494 after plateauing out at about 440 earlier this year.

There has been a rise in the number needing external residential placements due to their complex needs from 22 to 32, a meeting of the council’s tourism, economy and resources scrutiny committee was told.

Phil Redmond, deputy finance chief at the town hall, said the most expensive placements cost the council £7,500 a week, amounting to £390,000 a year.

By comparison a residential placement for a child with standard needs is £12,500 a year.

This was one of the main reasons for a forecast overspend on the current council budget of £3.2m, up from a predicted £2.6m in the previous month.

Mr Redmond told the meeting: “Over the summer Blackpol has seen significant increases in anti-social behaviour patterns in the town and that has contributed to several new residential placements reflected in the cost.”

He added measures were being taken to try and manage the situation.

Mr Redmond said: “There is a statutory requirement to make placements and some of these needs are difficult to manage. But we are looking at how we can work with our partners to make sure children are in the right place.

“For example in the past we have gone out to attract as many foster parents as we can, but we will still have children with complex needs where foster parents are not appropriate.”

The committee heard other pressures included a forecast overspend of £495,000 by the Property Services budget, partially blamed on a shortfall in expected rental income from the Central Business District at the Talbot Gateway.

There is also a £63,000 gap in the budget for the Grundy Art Gallery on Queen Street.

Coun Maxine Callow said she was concerned about funding for the gallery, whose shortfall is due to the loss of grants.

Mr Redmond said it was hoped to pursue replacement finance through actions such as seeking out Lottery funding for The Grundy.

The amount of business rates collected is also down to 33 per cent from 35 per cent, but Mr Redmond said this was because companies can now pay over 12 months instead of over 10 months.

He said although the pressures on the council budget were currently tough, it was hoped to turn the situation around before the end of the financial year.

He told the committee: “We have eight months of the year to work through this and we have got plans to put measures into place.”