Beds, Herts & Bucks

Rise in numbers of children in care leads to budget overspend

A rise in the number of children in care in Milton Keynes has led to an estimated budget overspend of £487,000.

The increase from 260 in 200910 to 283 in July 2011 reflects a national trend since the Baby P case of 2009, the council said.

The overspend would have been more than £1m but the council used its reserves to plug the gap.

Council leader Andrew Geary pledged that budget cuts would "never get in the way" of caring for the vulnerable.

The council's specialist services department has revealed the original predicted overspend of just over £1m was caused by an increase in numbers of children in care and in fostering placements.

One example of extra cost was £99,000 spent on adoption agencies to place four extra children with special requirements.

Mr Geary said any prediction of a rise in children going into care would never be precise but there had been a large growth nationwide since the Baby P case.

"In Milton Keynes we're actually better than the national picture," he said.

"We have 4.8 children per 1000 in care, nationally it's about 5.8, but we have to look across the last two years in order to try and make the predictions and then put a little bit on as well."

Reserves earmarked

To reduce the overspend and fund any increase in children in care beyond 260 in 2011-12, Milton Keynes Council will use its children and families reserve of £420,000 and a one-off budget of £94,000.

Numbers of agency staff have also been reduced to provide a more efficient workforce.

Milton Keynes Council is trying to save £71m over the next four years - more than a third of its budget - but Mr Geary pledged that cuts would not get in the way of caring for the vulnerable.

"Never, ever will a budget be allowed to get in the way of doing what is right by children," he said.

"There are earmarked reserves for children in care. If they're not needed they can be rolled forward to the next year.

"If they are, then we have to look at the trend and we have to replace them."

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