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(UK) Birmingham: Council "faces up to a [$379M] black hole in its finances"

Feb 3, 2024, Birmingham Live: Birmingham's vulnerable kids and families face massive shock as £112 million [$141M] of cuts lined up

Special needs families whose children and young people rely on transport service among those facing crushing cuts

W. Midlands

The shocking extent of the cuts about to hit Birmingham children, young people and families as the city council battles to balance its books has been laid bare. At least £112 million of cuts and savings that directly affect them are set to be forced through, despite concern among frontline workers that they will 'do real harm'.

In a document shared with BirminghamLive, the proposed cuts will fall on multiple services that impact young people. The council has to provide some services by law but anything else is at risk as it faces up to a £300 million [$379M] black hole in its finances.

Among the services set to get cut are the city's youth service, the early help services for families and costly transport getting disabled and vulnerable children to and from school and college. Birmingham Children's Trust, the children's social services arm of the council which oversees social work, children's homes, fostering and adoption, will see its budget slashed by at least £20 million over two years and jobs will be cut.

The council also plans an across the board rise in fees and charges of 10%. Around half of the cuts - £55 million - will come in the year ahead, and the rest in 2025. Frontline staff, including youth workers and family support staff, say the impact could be horrific.

The level of cuts demanded by Government appointed commissioners, sent in last year to oversee the council, dwarfs those made in any single year of austerity. Carmel Corrigan, trustee of Northfield Community Partnership, set to lose its early help project, said: "We will suffer the impacts long after the commissioners have left. Along with other cuts planned in Birmingham, we could hurt a generation of children, already struggling enough because the poverty and inequality indices here are so dreadful."

Cuts we know are proposed include:

£19 million over two years cut from the budget of Birmingham Children's Trust. The trust will be told to 'deliver a range of savings which will reduce staff, reductions in care costs and efficiency savings.'

£9.3 million cut next year through as yet unidentified 'efficiencies' in children's services. An external 'improvement partner' who specialises in children's services will help the council 'redesign services' to make the necessary savings.

£16.7 million will be saved over two years by axing the early help contract which provides services for families and children across the city. The service operates out of 10 locations around the city. We wrote about the likely impact of the loss of early help services here.

Scores of jobs also look set to go. A £5 million cut across the children and families directorate is proposed by reducing staffing this year and next. The number of affected roles is not set out but a note suggests roles at Grade 4, 5, 6, 7 and JNC will be cut.

Parents and families will also face rising costs. The council plans to generate £330,000 extra by increasing all fees and charges by 10%.

Cuts to home to school transport

The city's home to school transport schemes face a major overhaul because of spiralling demand and costs. More parents of disabled children will now be asked to organise the school run for their children themselves, funded through a personal travel budget. This will especially be the case for young people aged over 16.

According to the proposals, the council wants to save £14.1 million over two years by reviewing and reducing the number of young people aged 16-plus using transport services. Another £3.9 million will be saved by 'reviewing transport packages for statutory school age children (in line with) the 2019 travel assistance policy'.

£2.1 million will be cut over two years by redesigning the passenger assistance service for children and young people, another £2.1 million a year will be saved by 'regularising the terms and conditions for passenger assistants on home to school transport.

Another £296,000 will be saved when the council carries out the retender for the children's travel passenger assistants service. It will also save an estimated £340,000 over two years by 'optimising bus passes'.

The council was already in the throes of signing off new, more cost effective contracts with home to school transport providers to save a total of £27.4 million over two years. It had been facing criticism for the exceptionally high costs paid to taxi and bus firms for some journeys. This budget saving is included in the list of cuts, but with a note saying the savings will depend on the successful bidders 'having capacity'.

Some £2.13 million will also be saved by reducing use of agency staff in a new permanent travel service structure. Another £506,000 over two years will be saved by terminating the external contract for the children and young people's travel service database (now done in house). Other savings in the directorate appear to be administrative or as a result of moving costs between different funding streams, but may also have impacts on some families and young people. These include writing off £2.69m in revenue costs when office premises in Lancaster Circus, New Aston House, Sutton New Road and Lifford House are sold off, and another £2.46m through putting costs of staff involved in transformation plans to another budget.

The release of 'centrally held budgets' will save £1.5m and £992,000 will be cut by 'releasing Children and Families transformation reserve'. Another £4.25m has been saved by 'realigning the dedicated schools grant' - that includes hiving off £1 million from the High Needs Block and diverting that to the children's trust's placement spending.

The full extent of what, where and when cuts will come in will not now be confirmed until the council's Cabinet meets later this month. Originally due to be revealed next week, the full list of proposed cuts will not now be shared with the public until the papers for a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday February 27 are released. The full budget setting meeting will now happen on March 5th, barring further delay. The council has said it is waiting on the Governnment's response to its application for Exceptional Support before it can finalise its plans.

The council has asked for permission to raise council tax by up to 10%, and use the proceeds of a planned £500 million sale of assets to help it balance its budget. If it cannot do so, it will have to return an illegal budget.

In response to our inquiries about the cuts proposed for children and families, a council spokesperson said: "The council is going through a challenging period due to the financial position and we understand it is an unsettling time for many of our residents. As we review the saving proposals for the Children, Young People and Families directorate, it will be inevitable that services will need to be changed as a result, and this process allows us to continue making improvements to provide efficient services.



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