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Children’s Services ‘can make savings’

Created on 12/08/2019 @ 08:51
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By Elgan Hearn, Local Democracy Reporter

Social Services director, Alison Bulman, is confident that the under fire Children’s Services at Powys County Council will be able to make their required savings by the end of the financial year.

She appeared before the finance panel to give members assurances that the department was doing all it can to bring its budget back under control.

Ms Bulman said: “As per the forecast at the end of quarter one (April 1 – July 1) Children’s Services has delivered just over £2 million in savings.

“Last year as part of the budget setting process we did find that there was a potential pressure on the service of £6.2 million in this financial year.

“We developed savings plans of £3.6 million, which left a gap in the budget of just over £2.5 million.”

Ms Bulman told the panel that they had savings plans for £2,041,664, which leaves the department with £1.1 million more to find during the rest of the financial year. But it also leaves them with a shortfall of £350,000 against the plan and discussions are ongoing to find ways of making the saving.

“It’s difficult to predict what potential pressures are going to affect the service,” said Ms Bulman.

Finance panel chairman and independent member, John Brautigam, said: “What we are seeking really is an assurance that you’re confident that the savings plan that you have just described to us is achievable and is on target.

“There are mixed messages coming through from the assurance board chairman (Jack Straw) that he does not consider that savings can be done in the short term. You are demonstrating at the moment that you can.”

Ms Bulman believed these comments were about the pressures offsetting savings, but at the moment she said the department was managing.

She added: “I can’t sit here and give you guarantees that we won’t have unpredicted pressures coming through.

“However I can give you assurances that we have the right frameworks in place to deal with those and assure we can safeguard children in Powys.

“The teams are working very hard to avoid placements, but if there’s no alternative that’s our duty. If the figures of looked after children remain the same, I’m quietly confident we can deliver that £350,000 or reduce it.”

Cllr Gwilym Williams said: “Let’s hope you can achieve it.”

Cllr John Morris added that it could be time for the Assurance and Improvement Board to “come to an end”.

In October 2017, Care Inspectorate Wales (CIW), produced a damning inspection report into the Children’s Services department, which revealed missed opportunities to safeguard children, poor risk assessment and serious performance issues with front line services.

The Improvement and Assurance Panel was set up to as a reaction to the report. In the wake of the critical report, a new director of Social Services, Ali Bulman, and a head of Children’s Services, Jan Coles, were appointed.

After a follow up inspection in October 2018, Children’s Services were told by CIW that they still had “serious concerns” but some improvements were acknowledged.

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