a) Children’s Integrated Services
Councillor Cheryl Barnard, Portfolio Holder for Children, Young People and Schools, Catherine Underwood, Corporate Director for People, and Ailsa Barr, Director for Children’s Integrated Services, presented the papers updating the Committee on progress in implementation of agreed savings for 2022/23 and budget proposals for 2023/24 relating to Children’s Integrated Services.
In response to questions from the Committee and during subsequent discussion the following points were made:
a) Having capacity to deliver changes to services and associated savings is important and, for example, as part of the transformation programme the Service has been clear about the requirements to achieve delivery.
b) It is acknowledged that the process for offering leases to organisations to use buildings no longer required as children’s centres has not been the smoothest. A new corporate landlord function is currently being implemented across the Council and will result in there being a team that are experts in property matters to deal with such activity in the future rather than it being led by service areas that do not have the necessary expertise and experience. Councillors welcomed this to avoid similar situations happening in the future. The Portfolio Holder commented on the need for a robust expression of interest process and that she is confident that the process is moving forward, but agreed that the new corporate landlord model will be an improvement for the future.
c) It is important for the Council to be clear on the outcomes of proposals for service change and savings, and whether possible mitigations are a replacement for a Council service or not. Some Committee members felt that this hadn’t always been clear in the past, with expectations raised that have not been delivered on.
d) In response to a question about whether changes to early help services are in conflict with the transformation programme, it was explained that going forward a strengths based approach is being taken to supporting families and individuals and work is taking place to redesign early help services. Essex County Council has been asked to input into this redesign work.
e) The delay to the start of the transformation programme means that, while savings will be of the same scale overall, there will be a delay in the financial impact. However, the delay has meant that the whole Service is able to move forward with a coherent programme of improvement ‘Changing Lives Changing Futures’ following the Ofsted inspection. It will take time to make and sustain this improvement.
The Committee felt that overall the proposals support getting children the right support at the right time and therefore, as long as there is sufficient capacity and capability to deliver those changes, the Committee was comfortable with what was being proposed.
Nick Lee, Director of Education, presented a paper updating the Committee on progress in implementation of agreed savings for 2022/23 and budget proposals for 2023/24 relating to the Education Division. He highlighted the following information:
f) The saving relating to disposal of the vacant Thorneywood Hospital School building and site has not been fully achieved because there has been a delay in securing formal approval to dispose of the site. The Council is continuing to press the Department for Education for a decision to approve the disposal and in the meantime the savings shortfall has been offset by increased income generation elsewhere in the wider service area.
g) There are three proposals for savings in the 2023/24 budget including passenger transport in the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Team, fully funding statutory duties in relation to the Education Welfare Service, School Attendance and Employment Licensing from the Dedicated Schools Grant Schools Block; and removing the subsidy from Curriculum Service Projects relating to the Adventure Team, School Swimming and Why Nott Transport and deletion of a vacant post in the team.
Resolved to submit a comment to the consultation on the budget 2023/24 outlining that the Committee:
(1) is supportive of the proposals relating to children’s integrated services in dovetailing with the transformation programme and having potential to improve outcomes alongside making financial savings, but has concerns about capacity and capability to manage and deliver savings; and
(2) is supportive of the proposal for additional resource to support the Council’s scrutiny committees in carrying out their role in relation to good governance of the organisation.