Agenda item

The Proposed Budget 2024/25 and Provisional Budgets for 2025/26 and 2026/27

To receive a report from the Head of Democratic Services that introduces the Executive Board’s proposed budget for 2024/25 for consideration, review and comment on matters and proposals that fall within the Board’s remit.


The Board considered a report from the Head of Democratic Services that introduces the Council’s proposed budget for 2024/25 and provisional budgets for 2025/26 and 2026/27 for consideration, review and comment on matters and proposals that fall within the Scrutiny Board’s remit. Following consideration of the report feedback from this board will be incorporated into a composite report that will be submitted to Executive Board for consideration on 7 February 2024 as set out in the Council’s Budget and Policy Framework.


In attendance for this item were:


·  Cllr Jonathan Pryor, Executive Board Member for Culture, Economy and Education

·  Councillor Fiona Venner, Executive Member for Children Social Care and Health Partnerships

·  Julie Longworth, Director of Children & Families

·  Phil Evans, Chief Officer Transformation and Partnerships

·  Tim Pouncey, Chief Officer – Resources & Strategy

·  Louise Hornsey, Senior Head of Finance - People

·  Rob Clayton, Principal Scrutiny Adviser


By way of introduction the Senior Head of Finance – People, set out that key elements of the report which were the overall £58.4m saving requirement that the Council will need to make to deliver a balanced budget in 2024/25, for Children and Families the saving requirement is £16.5m and these proposals have been detailed in reports to Executive Board in October and December 2023. All local authorities are required by law, to set a balanced budget.


In terms of wider context, the Director of Children and Families highlighted the funding challenges around children looked after. In terms of numbers of children in care Leeds is performing well when compared to statistical neighbours, the numbers have increased but not on the same scale as in other areas. It was noted that increases in child poverty is a driver for children entering care, and in Leeds deprivation levels have increased and lower super output areas have increased with 12 neighbourhoods classed as being in the most deprived 1% in the UK. In addition to this there has been an increase in adolescent populations in the most deprived areas which has further added to demand pressures.


In response to comments and questions from board members the following discussion took place:


·  Board members were supportive of the invest to save approach which will see more in house provision delivered through new children’s homes. However, there was also concern around the lengthening timescales of delivering the new small group living homes and the risks that are identified in the papers around successful delivery. In response it was noted that the timescales have been subject to robust testing and there is a desire to be cautious and as rigorous as possible. Risks associated with establishing the homes are linked to staffing, refurbishment and registration of the homes which can be a lengthy process. Mitigation of risk is ongoing, a good example of that being the discussions taking place with Ofsted around how registration of the homes can be expedited as quickly as possible by establishing a ‘pipeline’ approach of other means.

·  Members were also interested in ensuring that the need to reduce costs does not mean that we are ‘over keen’ to avoid placing children in care and potentially increase risks for those children. The Board heard that this approach is more about prevention approaches and safely reducing the need for care through providing family support to those that most need it, it is not a blanket approach to reducing numbers. This preventative approach is delivered in partnership with other agencies, is evidence based and aims to deliver timely, restorative support to families often living in poverty and in adverse circumstances.

·  The Board wanted to know more about the proposals in the budget to Cease the Multi-Systemic Therapy for Child Abuse & Neglect (MST-CAN) service and whether it will be withdrawn. In response the Board were informed that the proposal is still in the budget and results from the difficult financial circumstances that the authority is in following successive years of reductions in funding. It was also noted that none of the proposals put forward are decisions that are taken lightly. The Board were concerned that this proposal could impact 60 families that access support and that it is used as a service to prevent children from entering the care system. The risk being that the saving of £330,000 that will be delivered by the proposal could be significantly outweighed by costs in the care system further down the line as potentially more children enter care. The Board also heard that no decision has been taken on this yet and that the point about the consequential impact of the proposal will be a key part of the decision making process through impact assessment.

·  On the same saving proposal (MST-CAN), board members wanted to know more about the methodology being used to calculate savings – specifically the £330K saving and why this does not reflect cumulatively for 2025/26 which would be £660K based on two years of savings. In response the Board heard that the £330K is removed from the base budget and is therefore recorded only in 2024/25 as opposed to the cumulative impact approach that would see the £330K recorded each year.

·  It was reiterated that the proposals in the budget are difficult and given the legal requirement to deliver a balanced budget there is no other choice but to bring forward very difficult proposals. As part of this process, it was noted that part of the work on the budget is how to do things differently and in respect of MST-CAN services consideration is being given to how the staff will be retained through a multi-agency approach within the plans to develop Family Health services.

·  The Chair referenced the working group held in preparation for this Budget item and noted some of the key discussion from that session, these were: Commissioned Services - the Board wanted to hear more about the planned review of commissioned services to understand which services would be most affected and what impact if any, this would have on services to Leeds residents; Life Coaches - the Board sought and received assurances around the life coaching staffing resource which will be integrated into family support and early help services; Skills - in light of the possibility that staff will leave the authority through voluntary redundancy or other measures, the board expressed some concern that valuable skills and experience could be lost;  Financial Challenge - a key discussion theme at the working group was the need for additional funding to meet demand pressures and the higher costs of providing foster care; Overall Budget - the Board sought reassurances around sufficiency of budget for the Directorate in 2024/25. The concern being that despite additional resource the same budget pressures emerge within children looked after budgets which place pressure on the overall council budget in 2024/25; Children’s Centres - the Board sought reassurance around the scope of the review and how integration and co-location might look and impact communities in the city; and the Board were concerned about service review proposals to cease the Caring Dads and Multi-Systemic Therapy for Child Abuse (MST-CAN) services given the valuable assistance they provide to children and families in the city.

·  In addition to the comment on the Working Group the Chair also highlighted concern around the proposals to reduce the Youth Activity Fund and the potential impact it might have on vulnerable families across the city. There were also concerns around the possible impact of parking charges on the activity of children and families in the city.

·  Board members referenced the demand led nature of the services provided by Children and Families and the pressures it can create due to the statutory nature of the services, set against the legal requirement to deliver a balanced budget as a local authority.

·  On sufficiency of budget the Board heard that the directorate is confident in the budget it has proposed but it was clearly set out that the cost of care in external residential placements and the care system generally is a major risk due to demand and costs of the services and the need for more funding.

·  The Board noted that some of the strategies in the budget are high risk on the risk register. In response members were informed that risks have been highlighted in the spirit of openness and transparency and to highlight the pressures being faced and the difficult decisions that are having to be taken to balance budgets.

·  The Executive Member for Economy, Culture and Education highlighted the impact of inflationary pressure on the budget and that the challenges posed by that have come following successive years of budget reductions which has led to some difficult proposals being put forward in the budget for 2024/25.

·  The Board were informed about the strong officer and member oversight, governance and scrutiny measures in place in Leeds to manage budgets and deal with the pressures being faced by services in the directorate. It was further noted that the financial pressures within the directorate have been the main focus of work in recent months at senior officer levels and at senior elected member level.




The Board noted the content of the report and appendices and that a summary of the deliberations of all five Scrutiny Boards during the period of consultation on the Executive Board’s proposed budget will be submitted for consideration by Executive Board on 7 February 2024.

Supporting documents: