Total of £2.7 million needed to plug gap in Northumberland County Council's children's services budget

Northumberland's cabinet member for children's services, Guy Renner-Thompson
-Credit: (Image: Iain Buist/Newcastle Chronicle)

Pressures on children and adult's social care budgets has forced Northumberland County Council to create a new reserve in order to keep pace with demand.

The £2.7 million fund uses funds set aside at the end of the 2023/24 financial year, and will be used to "offset significant pressures" expected in 2024/25. At Tuesday's meeting of the council's cabinet, it was revealed that the cost of caring for a child in a foster home can be up to £6,000 a week.

The figures came from a report outlining the council's financial position at the end of the 2023/24 financial year. The council recorded an underspend of £354,000 after the use of "earmarked" reserves and so-called "re-profiling" of £41.9 million from the capital programme into 2024/25.

This is where expenditure is moved from one year to the next in order to ease pressure on the budget. For example, last year the council re-profiled £95.547m from 2022-23 to 23-24 in the face of spiralling inflation.

Cabinet member for corporate services Coun Wojciech Ploszaj said: "In general, we are in a good and healthy position. There has been some re-profiling of the capital programme but we have had a better than expected return on our investments.

"The report also outlines some of the pressures we have, mainly in children's social care and adult social care due to rising cost and demand. We have created a £2.7 million reserve to offset some of these pressures."

Coun Guy Renner Thompson, the cabinet member for children's services, explained the steps the council were taking to mitigate the cost pressures on social care for young people.

He said: "I can offer some reassurance. We have asked for, and been given, this £2.7 million to tackle our spending for the year, but we do have in place an invest to save programme.

"The bulk of that extra money goes into children's home placements. This is a national issue - the average cost of putting a child into a private residential home is £6,000 a week.

"There are some stories of this being £10,000 or even £20,000 for children with additional needs. We are planning to build our own suite of children's homes to keep that service in house, and we have already constructed one in Pegswood.

"Private companies have been accused of profiting of the back of vulnerable children, which is not something we are in favour of. If we build these homes, we can use our own staff, keep costs down and keep children in Northumberland, and not have to rely on homes miles away outside the county.

"It's good for the children, and it is good for the balance sheet."