Bucks parents 'dumping' children on council's doorstep, placing extra demand on stretched services
Parents are “dumping children” on the council’s doorstep, according to a county chief – as he defended unpredictable demands on council social care budgets.
Yesterday Bucks County Council’s (BCC) budget scrutiny committee met for the first of three meetings this week to grill cabinet members on the financial plans for the year 2019/2020.
Major overspends within the county’s failing children’s services, Brexit and unitary authority budgets were among the challenges presented to leader, Cllr Martin Tett, on January 8.
Over the past year children’s social care leaders have repeatedly defended major overspends within the service, saying it is incredibly difficult to predict rising demand.
This year the service is set to bust its budget by £10 million, prompting councillor for The Risboroughs, Bill Bendyshe Brown, to challenge the issue again.
He said: “I think we are all uncomfortable on that. What is going wrong that we cannot get the forecast right within the children’s services area?”
Cllr Tett said it is difficult to make even weekly predictions for demand, revealing parents have been known to leave their children on the doorstep of the children’s services department in Wycombe on a Monday morning.
He said: “It is incredibly difficult to forecast demand, this is not like running a business.
“Quite frankly you do not know on Monday morning what the demand will be, in terms of children literally dumped on our doorstep.
“I have been to Wycombe, our children’s services department will say on a Monday morning, on a bad weekend, parents come and leave children on the doorstep at our offices.”
The leader was then asked what financial risks the county faces in the event of a ‘no deal’ Brexit – to which he admitted there is no separate budget to mitigate the impact of Britain’s exit from the European Union.
However, Cllr Tett assured members individual services are aware of the impact Brexit may have and will plan accordingly.
He was also asked why funds to aid the transfer to a single unitary authority have not been included in next year’s budget – with the new council set to replace the county and district councils by April 2020.
Cllr Tett said BCC has set aside £7.7 million which will be pooled together with money from the districts to launch the new council next year.
He added the savings expected to be made by implementing the unitary authority cannot be used to offset cuts of around half-a-million to library and highways services in next year’s budget.
He said: “The idea you can make ongoing commitments now and spend money now based on future savings is not possible, that’s not sensible accounting.”
Cabinet member for resources, John Chilver, was then put under the spotlight by councillors on the council’s capital programme – one-off spending that results in the construction or improvement of something, such as school building projects and road schemes.
He was grilled on predicted school places, plans to build a visitor centre at Black Park and money set aside to improve pavements.
Cllr Chilver was asked if the £15.5 million allocated to primary and secondary school places is enough to fund the predicted demand.
He assured members it is a statutory duty to fund the places– however added more cash will have to be found from other avenues to meet the rising demand, due to changes in government funding.
He said: “Primary numbers have been rising ever since 2007 due to housing growth and inward migration, and this is already beginning to flow through into the secondary sector.
“You can see the bulge in secondary school places from 2021 onwards, with some very big projects being planned. Particularly in Aylesbury and in High Wycombe.”
Cllr Chilver also provided more information on plans to build a visitor resource centre at Black Park in Iver – in a bid to improve income for the beauty spot over winter.
The new centre will include catering facilities, toilets and an indoor play centre.
Leader of the Liberal Democrats on BCC, Steven Lambert, went on to ask if £1.5 million is enough to fund footpath repairs across the entire county.
Cllr Tett responded, saying he “would love” to plough an additional £5 million into footpaths, however road improvements had to be prioritised.
He said: “The condition of our roads has not been of a standard our residents and members should reasonably accept, therefore our priority has been year on year improve the overall quality of our roads and that currently remains the priority.
“However, we are aware, particularly of many of our town centres, that our pavements are deteriorating and that is why we have added in money for our pavements.
“Candidly, it’s not enough. I would love to spend more on pavements. If I had enough money, I would like to spend another £5 million a year on it.”
Councillors will meet again today (January 9) to continue to the debate.
Bucks Free Press
Hillingdon & Uxbridge Times
Bucks Free Press
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