The Leader of Bradford Council has urgently appealed to the government to enhance funding for local councils, as Bradford is confronted with a £68 million deficit in its budget for this year.
The authority predicts that by the end of this fiscal year, there will be a £23 million shortfall in the council’s budget and a £45 million deficit in the Bradford Children and Families Trust (BCFT), unless there are substantial changes. BCFT assumed responsibility for delivering children’s social care services from the council in April. It operates independently under a board of trustees and relies entirely on council funding.
The primary drivers of budgetary strain are increased demand and rising costs for children’s social care and adult social care, compounded by the impact of unusually high levels of inflation and the ongoing cost-of-living crisis.
The need for costly residential care placements for children, which now average around £312,000 per child per year, and the substantial reliance on agency social workers are the primary factors pressuring BCFT’s budget.
BCFT anticipates that they will allocate £242 million exclusively for children’s social care this year, a staggering 25% over budget. Bradford Council generates just £233 million annually from council tax.
The council allocates 76% of its yearly budget to adult and children’s services.
Since 2011, the council has been compelled to identify over £350 million in cuts and savings due to national austerity measures. They are currently developing a comprehensive plan to implement further cost-saving measures.
Cllr Susan Hinchcliffe, leader of Bradford Council, said: “We are not the only council facing tough times. Councils up and down the country are facing big financial pressures.
“I have written to the government to ask that they urgently improve how they fund local government. Government reforms to the funding of local authorities that would benefit Bradford by £32m a year based on independent analysis have been repeatedly delayed. The Local Government Association estimates that councils across the country now collectively have a funding gap of £2.4 billion this financial year.
“I am also calling on the government to make sure that the Bradford Children and Families Trust is properly funded. We need the government to provide better funding for disadvantaged children across the children’s social care sector nationally. But specifically in Bradford we know that we have the youngest population in the country as well as a high level of social need. This needs sustainable funding from central government accordingly.
“Government has equally not done enough to stem the spiralling costs of private providers of children’s care placements. Research nationally has shown that the 20 largest providers are making nearly 20% profit out of disadvantaged children’s care.
“The Chancellor will present his Autumn Statement to parliament on 22 November, setting out the Government’s spending plans. It is his chance to put the deficit in children’s social care right. If he does that, we won’t have to make the drastic cuts that we are currently having to consider.”
The council has already suspended all non-essential spending, frozen non-essential hiring, and is conducting a thorough spending review to identify measures for balancing the budget. They are collaborating with the children’s trust to manage and reduce costs, have reviewed reserves and the capital program, raised fees and charges, and initiated an extensive transformation program.
The council is engaging in discussions with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and is also in talks with the Department for Education (DfE) regarding financial assistance for the Bradford Children and Families Trust, to ensure their continued progress.
According to benchmark data compiled by the Local Government Association, with the exception of children’s social care, all of Bradford Council’s services are either at or below benchmark spending levels compared to similar councils.
Eileen Milner, Chair of Bradford Children and Families Trust said: “We clearly recognise the budget pressures that we are forecasting contribute to the Council’s budget challenges. We are confident that through the delivery of our business plan we are working on the critical areas that will mitigate the Trust’s part in this while focusing on the right plans focusing upon ever better outcomes for our children and young people.
“The Trust has only existed since April this year and we have already implemented early demonstrable improvements, but such a fundamental level of change takes time and is reflected in the budget challenge we face. We are clear on our position and what needs to be done to achieve the improvements needed in services and support, which will mean fewer children will need to come into care because we are able to support them better and earlier at home, plus make sure that more of our children who do need to come into care are able to live closer to home or within family arrangements. These changes will also deliver necessary savings over a four-year period. We are prioritising a permanent workforce, making best use of collective resources and have a strong focus on helping families earlier, focusing as well on strong partnership working across the Bradford system.”
The extent of the financial strains confronting the council will be deliberated by senior councillors at the executive board meeting on Tuesday, 7 November.