A COUNCILLOR has expressed “disbelief” at how the Bradford Children’s Trust has got to the point where it is likely to overspend by £45 million this year.

The overspend – part of an overall £68m budget gap predicted by Bradford Council, was discussed at a meeting of the Council’s Executive on Tuesday.

Councillor Mike Pollard (Cons, Baildon) said the overspend was down to a “nonsensical” budget being approved for the Trust – which took control of Bradford Children’s Services in April.

The Council’s latest finances were revealed late last month, and showed the authority would need to find £68m worth of savings in the coming months.

The financial report went to the Executive on Tuesday, when Council Leader Susan Hinchcliffe said: “These are unprecedented times for Councils up and down the country.”

The pressures were highest in the Children’s Trust, with spiralling costs of agency social workers and costly out of District places for looked after children.

Members of the Executive were told some of these placements cost the taxpayer £6,000 a week.

Cllr Pollard questioned how expected spending by the Trust could have risen so much in the months since its business plan and budget were approved.

He said: “There is some bafflement at how the Children’s Trust, which was given a very generous budget for this year, could possibly be indicating a first year overspend of £45m.”

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Councillor Mike PollardCouncillor Mike Pollard (Image: newsquest)

He described the data used to draw up the budget as “nonsensical” – saying it had drastically miscalculated the number of agency social workers that would be needed this year, and underestimated the number of expensive out of district children’s placements required by the Council.

The data had “failed dismally” to reflect what was happening in Bradford – he claimed.

Officers told him that the model used to draw up the budget was a recognised one, and that it was based on the data available at the time.

Cllr Hinchcliffe said: “These are not only Bradford issues. With the model some numbers will be up, some would be down.

“We can argue as much as we like about the contract numbers, but when children come through the front door in need of help we can’t tell them ‘we’re full up, come back tomorrow.’

“Children don’t always follow models.

“The only way to fix this is to put more money into Children’s Services nationally.”

After the meeting Cllr Pollard said: “The council’s ‘Contract Model’ for budgeting for the new Trust identified a total of 305 agency staff in Children’s Social Care the day before the Trust went ‘live’ on 1 April, at which point the viability of the budget promptly collapsed, as the actual number of such staff was 395 on ‘day one.’

“The annual financial difference between the dreamt-up number of agency workers and the actual, would be a massive £9.5m.

“As the council’s staffing projections have varied from realism yet further, the actual overspend is likely to be somewhere between £15m and £18m over the full year. As the obscenely inflated costs of providing residential care outside the Bradford District is now, on average, just a whisker under £6,000 a week or £312,000 per child or young person per annum, one might think it imperative to estimate accurately, how many such children the council is likely to need to care for during the financial year.

“The modelled assumption, within the Council’s chosen budget projection methodology, of an annualised average of 145 such children, is more than 50 short of current reality, a reality that isn’t something that can be put into the random ‘stuff happens’ category of Local Authority bus crash economics, but rather one that hides in plain sight, with the most cursory glance at recent trends in this area of spending. 50+ children at an average of £312,000 each results in another realistically predictable £15+ million overspend.

“All of this seems to be due to the Labour Council deliberately using a Contract Funding Model based on a theoretical academic model, rather than reality. I am mystified as to how and why anyone would think that a budget based upon a theory was more likely to be accurate than one based on actual fact and the application of common sense.”