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£16m Islington council budget black hole sparks cuts fear

‘Large chunk’ of Islington Council’s multi-million-pound deficit due to extra pressures of children 'living in poverty and neglect'

10 November, 2017 — By Emily Finch

Benali Hamdache: ‘In an impossible place’

A “SIGNIFICANT upturn” in children coming to the council for help has contributed to a £16million black hole in Town Hall accounts.

The Tribune can reveal Islington Council has overspent by £5million on children’s services in the past year. The figures mean £16million must be found from next year’s budget, due to be decided in February.

At a meeting planned for later this month, councillors will discuss savings and potential cuts to services.

“The big-picture narrative is that austerity has really bitten this year, and the austerity policy is coming home to roost,” said Town Hall finance chief Councillor Andy Hull, who was behind this year’s budget.

“We’ve managed to paper over cracks and managed some of these pressures for years. But it’s become extraordinarily difficult to manage.”

The council had £208million to spend on services this year – money raised from a combination of business rates, council tax and grants from central government.

Cllr Hull said a “large chunk” of the multi-million-pound deficit was due to extra pressures on children services. The total overspend is “similar in scale to the savings challenge we have faced each year in recent years”.

“After seven years of the government turning their back on the public sector, more kids are living in poverty and neglect. If you slash and burn across the public sector it’s going to show,” said Cllr Hull.

He said that an increased number of unaccompanied asylum-seeker children added to the budget overspend, as the council had a duty to help them.

“When a kid comes to us in need we can’t turn them away. Since we’ve passed the budget last year, we’ve seen a significant upturn in the people we are having to support through child protection arrangements and the children-in-need service,” he added. “We are needing to take more complex kids into care, and some of our kids in care cost £200,000 a year.”

Andy Hull: ‘Austerity has really bitten’

Children in need services run by the Town Hall include helping youngsters with drug and alcohol issues and supporting social workers to maintain stability in a child’s home.

There have been 303 more child protection investigations this year compared to last year and a 28 per cent increase in referrals to child services from the police.

The lifting of the public sector pay cap is contributing £3.5million to the £16million overspend, and £1million is from an increased number of older and disabled people needing care amid a loss of funding from central government, according to Cllr Hull.

Asked why the Town Hall failed to predict the upturn in children needing the help of council services, he said: “I don’t think you can predict necessarily how many children will present themselves to you in need of your help. It’s not in demographics, which offer clear predictors of an ageing population, but about behaviours in families.”

Savvas Panas from the borough’s youth service charity, the Pilion Trust, said there had been a doubling of people accessing his charity’s services this year.

“There are no new services for young people. With only low-paying jobs, people are not being able to move from family homes. There’s overcrowding and generational arguments with a rise in domestic abuse,” he said.

Benali Hamdache, a Green Party candidate in next year’s council elections, said: “It really does show government cuts are putting the local council in an impossible place. The council must be open and transparent and explain to Islington how it expects to deliver core services. It needs to invite the community in to discuss ideas and solutions to deal with this government-enforced austerity.”

“At the last budget we proposed a council tax referendum to plug the hole in adult social care. A pound extra a week could help keep people getting the support they need. It’s time for the council to put all options on the table.”

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