11:20AM, Wednesday 01 May 2019
The children’s services annual budget is mostly spent on statutory duties to keep children safe and have access to education.
With significant increase in demand in recent years, particularly for children coming into care and Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCP) there is no single area which is priority.
The careful budgeting by local Conservatives means that not only have we maintained the staff and services necessary to protect the most vulnerable, but also put a net increase of more than £3million in the 2019/20 budget to prioritise this provision and meet future demand.
Furthermore, unlike most councils across the country, we maintained and increased investment in non-statutory provision such as youth centres and children’s centres this year.
Whether a child’s needs relate to Special educational needs and disability (SEND) foster care, mental health or anything else, RBWM Conservatives are committed to maintaining high quality provision to look after children and families.
Our local schools do a great job, evidenced both by Ofsted judgements and overall exam results.
Local Conservatives have prioritised supporting them, such as with the recent £30million secondary school expansion creating 1,000 new school places on time and under budget at seven schools across the borough.
Nonetheless, we recognise the ongoing financial challenges they face.
As such, the 2019/20 budget supports schools so they can focus on education, e.g. by investing £100,000 to support the seven Requires Improvement schools working to be Good or Outstanding, and allocating additional funding to the seven most inclusive schools for SEND provision.
Conservatives have and will continue to lobby Government ministers on the funding challenges, and our manifesto commits to 7,500 new places at Good and Outstanding schools, plans to open four more new schools including a special school, and promoting the further expansion of Newlands.
It is damning that Ofsted says services for children in need of help and protection across the Borough are getting steadily worse – and it is no surprise this failure coincides with the council handing over control to an external provider.
We must take back control of services our community relies on, and the council’s top priority must be employing enough properly-paid social workers to offer adequate mental health provision and properly assess every case.
Rising demand is linked to the breakdown of the fabric of our society due to austerity measures imposed on local, public services by central government.
To reverse that, a Labour council will stand up for all public services to ensure they are fully-funded.
Per-pupil spending in schools is down eight per cent since 2010 and the school system is on the verge of disaster with teachers leaving the profession in droves, support staff being sacked and funding for children with special educational needs being with-drawn – this should be a badge of shame for Conservatives.
Labour opposes this dereliction of duty and will create a cradle-to-grave National Education Service that is free at point of use.
To build on this our local manifesto commits to:
Education cuts are a national scandal.
Last year, we highlighted a local primary school asking parents to buy essentials, and they’re not alone – more than 1,000 schools across England are doing the same.
This is just one area where local and national politics overlap, and we are campaigning nationally with our party for an additional £7 billion for our schools.
Locally, recent Conservative funding decisions have caused concern amongst residents including the allocation of additional Special Educational Needs (SEN) funding and the council’s failure to provide funding for the expansion of Lowbrook Academy.
We want to see much greater transparency in the way money is allocated, accountability over infrastructure projects and fair funding for all schools.
Children’s centres are vital in reducing demand on children’s services and the Lib Dems will fight to keep all our centres open.
By offering a space for parents and carers to meet others they reduce isolation, increase children’s social skills and school readiness, and evidence shows that they can help identify the early signs of domestic abuse.
A Lib Dem council would be keen to work with voluntary groups like Family Friends who support families in crisis locally.
It is a huge concern that around 40 per cent of children’s social worker posts are vacant in RBWM.
We would investigate fast-track graduate training programmes to increase recruitment, while increasing truly affordable housing to maintain the numbers of key workers living in the borough.
The Borough First
The council has a statutory duty to protect vulnerable children and to support schools to offer an excellent standard of education for all children to the age of 18.
The council distributes central government funding for this purpose.
The upward trend of children in care placements was flagged by RBWM finance officers as a risk in 2015 but the Tories ignored this and continued to cut council tax.
This has resulted, this year, in a £1.45m deficit that must have detrimentally affected non statutory services such as early years, youth services, mental health services and support to schools.
It is not enough to just do the minimum, we must actively ensure the provision of these frontline services and we would take a focused, proactive approach to protect non-statutory services especially for the most vulnerable.
Under the current Conservative government per pupil spending has reduced by eight per cent in 10 years with education spending slashed by £7 billion since 2011.
These cuts alongside rising costs (salaries, pensions and Special Educational Needs (SEN) provision) have placed enormous pressure on our teachers and is failing a generation of children.
Our priority will always be to reverse these cuts rather than paying for self-congratulatory banners and parking machines that don’t work.
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