CONSULTANCY fees following a damning Ofsted report, spending on temp social workers and the soaring cost of residential placements have helped contribute to an overspend of more than £10m by one Halton Council department, with bosses being ordered to urgently cut costs.

The authority’s ruling executive board was recently briefed on the council's current financial position which showed an overspend for the current financial year of more than £7m. This included more than £10m by the Children and Families department, offset by an underspend in the authority’s corporate and democracy department.

Some of the overspend comes from the cost of agency social workers, as well as on hiring a company called Innovate, which was brought in after government inspectors Ofsted uncovered a list of failings at the council’s children’s department. An inspection in November 2021 found "significant weaknesses" in social work practice and shortfalls in management, which had "failed to safeguard and promote children's welfare". But the findings of a more recent visit published last month found things were improving.

Out of borough residential care continues to be the main budget pressure as the costs have continued to rise year on year. Residential care is expected to be £4.721m over budget at the end of the financial year, April 5.

A report to the board said strategic directors have been told to take 'urgent action' to identify areas where spending could be reduced or suspended for the remainder of the current financial year, and that all spending should be limited to only absolutely essential items.

It said: “Social worker recruitment is still proving difficult due to an extremely competitive market and highly inflated agency payment rates. There is further pressure on the budget from the costs of the Innovate managed agency team which was brought in as a result of the Ofsted inspection."

The council said residential and nursing care costs have risen ‘significantly’ over recent years. However, Government funding for Halton has not risen at the same rate.

In children’s social care the council said the biggest area of cost was residential placements, and that the number of Halton children in residential placements had nearly doubled over the past eight years, while the total cost has tripled over the same period and the complexity of children’s needs has increased ‘significantly’.

The cost of school transport has risen sharply in the current year with
average prices increasing by 17 per cent from September.

Council Leader Cllr Mike Wharton said the situation was of ‘great concern’, especially given the huge increases in inflation and demand for council services.

He said: “This is a similar position to Halton’s neighbouring councils and many other councils across the country. The resulting financial shortfall is a direct result of the enormous cuts in Government funding which Halton has suffered since 2010.”