The Coronavirus Pandemic has added new pressures to council finances. Services for those most in need continue to be threatened with further cuts. I’ve written to Norfolk’s cabinet member for finance today asking for clarity on funding for schools and for SEND in particular.
From: Maxfield, Edward
Sent: 08 June 2020 09:51
To: Jamieson, Andrew
Subject: Council finances
I hope you and your family are staying well.
I can’t dial in to this morning’s cabinet meeting unfortunately but I’d be grateful if you could answer the following questions for me:
The finance out-turn report continues to show a significant overspend (£13m) on the Children’s Services budget which the narrative attributes in large part to ‘unexpected pressures on the home-school transport budget for SEND.’ I searched for an explanation of unexpected nature of the pressures but couldn’t find one. The only direct reference I can see is to Norfolk’s rurality which can hardly count as surprising! Are you able to provide more details of the unexpected nature of the pressures?
A significant concern of mine – and of colleagues I have spoken to over the last three years – is that the council sets great store by Transformation Plans for its major services which never deliver the hoped for financial savings. There’s further evidence of this in reference to the outturn from transformation of services for Looked After Children which has seen a reduction in the number of children in care but an increase in costs because of rising complexity. Isn’t this part of a very familiar pattern and wouldn’t it be better for the council to recognise the trend towards increased demand for support from vulnerable children and families and increasing complexity in the nature of support required and just budget accordingly in the first place? Failing to do so just leads to a breakdown in trust among those we are supposed to be working for and increased pressures on our own workforce.
At 2.11 in the appendix to the financial monitoring outturn report there is reference to a change in the rules relating to overspends in the budgets for education. In future years overspends in the DSG have to be carried forward and set against the following year’s DSG budget. 2.13 indicates that the accumulated overspend amounts to almost £20 million and this year’s overspend alone is almost £9m. Can you provide some additional information about what this means for future funding for the High Needs Block please?
All of these questions seem particularly pertinent given the publication of the OFSTED report into SEND in Norfolk tomorrow.
Finally you will have seen the report in the Local Government Chronicle about Eastleigh Council warning of the impact of the Coronavirus Pandemic on its financial position because it relies heavily on its £200m property portfolio. I appreciate that EBC is a District level authority with a smaller budget and a different range of services which include the provision of leisure facilities. However, it is the case that NCC has both increased its borrowing over recent years and increased its property portfolio as a means of acquiring revenue. You’ll recall that at a previous full council I asked you about the rules the council applies to determine what is a safe level of borrowing. I don’t think I ever received a full reply to that question but I would be very grateful if you could give me an updated opinion on that point and on the vulnerabilities that the council’s asset acquisition strategy now faces as a result of the down-turn in property prices, likely lower disposable income among the population and uncertainties over interest rates (both commercial and from the government).
With thanks and best regards
County Councillor for Mundesley Division
Tel. 07449 706215