Children’s centre and youth counselling cutbacks in Bucks would be counter-productive, inquiry warns

Bucks County Council
Bucks County Council

Proposed cuts to children’s centres would be ‘a short term saving with many medium to long-term costs to other council services’.

That is according to the county council’s budget scrutiny select committee, which says that any changes following a savings review must go before a public consultation.

Last month the council announced a review of children’s centres provision, with venues in ‘more affluent areas’ under threat. Reducing the non-statutory activities provided by the service could save more than £4m over the next four years.

The select committee’s report contains a raft of recommendations about services across the council, following an inquiry in January during which bosses were quizzed on budget plans.

The council is looking to make millions of pounds worth of savings after its government grant was slashed for the next financial year and is set to be totally cut from 2018.

Inquiry chairman, David Shakespeare, said: “It’s very clear that significant savings will have to be made across the board over the next year and indeed the next several years.

“Our committee wants to make sure as far as we can that proposed financial savings and reductions in services, particularly front-line services, are watertight – and that cabinet members can deliver what they say they can.”

The committee raised concerns over reducing the youth counselling service which is currently accessed by around 1,100 young people – including those who self-harm, have suicidal thoughts or have experienced domestic violence.

Its report says: “We feel this is a short-term saving that will have longer-term costs across a number of portfolios and the risks to the council are significant.”

The committee suggested ways the council could save money or generate extra income. This includes reducing the amount of interims and consultants at County Hall, who currently number 216 and cost £1m every month. The committee heard that private agencies typically put a 40% mark-up on the frontline staff it provides the authority, increasing to 90% for senior managers.

The committee questionned the £900,000 being spent on upgrading the council’s Green Park conference centre in Aston Clinton.

“We have concerns about the long term sustainability of Green Park and are seeking assurances that a viable business and marketing plan has been produced to show that this facility can be sustained and grow its income over the coming years,” it said.

The committee believes the future of Local Area Forums, which have a budget of £500,000 which is spent on local initiatives, should be considered: “It was ‘felt that this budget should be offered up as a saving and the money used to support vulnerable people.”

Councillors on the committee also called for a review of the charging policies for all Home to School transport users to ‘ensure maximum income generation opportunities are explored’, while they also believe the authority should be able to charge more for its planning services. This is currently subject to a government ceiling which the council should lobby against.

The committee’s report will be presented to cabinet on February 15, with the final budget for 2016/17 to be agreed by the full county council at its meeting on February 18.