Friday brief: Children's services overspend causing concern
Plus some other news in brief and our regular Westminster Watch
“My goodness, there is a lot of work to be done on this particular area if we are to survive,” - the words of experienced councillor Jim Hakewill yesterday as the North unitary council discussed the state of children’s services.
The service, which has been managed for the past two years by an independent children’s trust, is predicting an overspend of as much as £11 million on its £131m budget, as the increasing numbers of children needing support and the increasing costs of private placements is contributing to the trust’s financial issues.
In the current financial climate, local government spending is being squeezed more than ever before and after a decade of funding reductions from central government, many services have been stripped back to the bone. This week Kent and Hampshire councils issued a warning they would run out of money, even if they made drastic cuts to services.
Independent councillor Jim Hakewill, who served for many years on the former county council, referenced back to the days of the former council which in 2018 was the first local authority in two decades to go bust. The two new unitaries were formed on government orders and with the support of the areas seven Conservative MPs to reshape the way local services are delivered, but already the costs of children’s services are running away.
“You don't solve this particular problem which is inherent, by simply throwing money towards it. I think we in local government are in a parlous state in relation to social care for adults and children.
“As we scrutinise the children's trust we should recognise this is a national malaise and it is not going to get any better and I think we need to focus as much knowledge and intellect in this room and outside to try and understand how we do actually solve the issue of looking after those most vulnerable children.”
Conservative Cllr Jonathan Ekins asked what mechanisms are in place at the authority to ensure the children’s trust is accountable for its spending.
“We have to be very careful that we don’t fall into the same hole that they did at Northamptonshire County Council children’s services, where they just kept throwing money at a black hole without any accountability’.
“We have to be accountable for the public money that we spend.”
Children’s services have been failing in Northants for many years, which is why it was taken out of council control and handed over to the trust.
Cllr Scott Edwards, who is the executive member for children’s services, said he could assure councillors the trust was being scrutinised financially.
An Ofsted report is expected imminently, which will say whether the trust has made any improvements since it took over.
News in brief:
The contract of Northamptonshire’s Chief Constable Nick Adderley will be discussed at a public meeting next week.
An item called ‘appointment of the chief constable’ is on the agenda for the police and crime panel meeting and when NN Journal asked the office of the police, fire and crime commissioner what the item was about, we were given a cryptic response.
Northamptonshire Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner Stephen Mold said:
“The Chief Constable was appointed in 2018 on a five year contract, which ends in the summer of next year.
“I wish to discuss what happens next with the Police, Fire and Crime Panel at our meeting next week.
“That meeting will be held in public, and it would not be proper for me to say anything further until I have had that discussion with the panel.”
Following NN Journal’s story about West Northamptonshire Council’s multi-million pound investment with Qatar National Bank, the authority’s Liberal Democrat Group has called for an urgent review.
Group leader Sally Beardworth said:
“ Qatar’s record on LGBTQ+ rights is truly shocking. Male homosexuality is illegal in Qatar with a punishment of up to three years in prison and a fine and the possibility of death penalty for Muslims.
“The Qatari Government does not recognise same-sex marriage or civil partnerships, nor does it allow people in Qatar to campaign for LGBTQ+ rights.
"It makes a mockery of the Council’s support for Northampton Pride."
Deputy leader of the group Cllr Jonathan Harris said:
“It’s just blatant hypocrisy. To be investing in a regime that clearly actively practices discrimination is entirely unacceptable. The Council’s current investment strategy says: “The primary aims of this Investment Strategy, in order of priority, are the security of its capital, liquidity of its capital and to obtain a return on its capital commensurate with proper levels of security and liquidity.”
“There is absolutely no reference to socially responsible or ethical investment, it is simply profits before everything else. We want it changed to ensure that principles of social responsibility and sustainability are first priority,”.
The group has arranged a meeting with the authority’s chief executive.
Staff at the University of Northampton have been out on the picket lines this week as part of a national strike.
The University and College Union has said 70,000 members are taking part in the biggest industrial action in its history.
The staff are striking over pay and working conditions - a third of academic staff are on temporary contracts.
The student’s union is supporting the strikes, however some students have voiced concerns about missing lectures, for which they pay an annual tuition fee.
At the meeting of North Northamptonshire Council’s full council yesterday Cllr John McGhee said he and his fellow ward councillors on the Kingswood estate were not aware of any initiatives happening to tackle serious youth crime in his area. A report by the county’s youth offending service said there were cross service initiatives to tackle the problem.
Serious youth crime has been on the rise in Northants in recent years with a number of teenage killings and at the weekend a 19 year old was attacked by a masked gang in a shop on the Kingswood estate.
Cllr McGhee asked executive member for children’s services Cllr Scott Edwards to give examples of the initiatives that were taking place. Cllr Edwards seemed unable or reluctant to give an answer and instead said he would write to Cllr McGhee with the details.
Kettering MP Philip Hollobone called on the minister for immigration Robert Jenrick to resign this week over his handling of the dispersal of migrants from the Manston camp in Kent to hotel accommodation.
He made the call in the house of commons and the minister did admit the situation had been ‘wholly unacceptable’. North Northamptonshire Council, led by Cllr Jason Smithers, was one of a number of councils that tried to take legal action against the Home Office about plans to set up a contingency hotel in their area.
The Royal Hotel in Kettering was earmarked by government contractor SERCO to be used and is now in operation. The county’s chief constable had also been against the plan.
Speaking to NN Journal this week, Cllr Smithers said he didn't think the hotel was in a suitable condition to house migrants and said the Home Office ‘was just not listening’ to his representations.
He also said he was assured last Friday the hotel would not be used, only to have his public health team informed on Monday that migrants had been placed there.
He also said there were ‘rumours’ about another hotel that would be used in Rothwell and said the Home Office ‘need to come to the table to talk to us’.
🎻Elizabethan carols will be sung by candlelight tonight from 7pm at Lyveden near Oundle. Tickets are from £10 and family discounts are available.
🎺There’s a live music night at Saints Coffee at 62 Giles’ Street, Northampton tomorrow from 7pm.
😂The Rolling in the Aisles Comedy Club is back for laughs tomorrow from 7.15pm at Kettering Arts Centre, Lindsey Street.