Politicians clashed over stretched social care budgets at a meeting on September 20, after it was announced Bucks County Council continues to battle “severe financial” pressures.
At a full council meeting last week leader Martin Tett warned members that children’s and adult social care services will continue to face challenges as budgets for the next quarter of the financial year are reviewed.
Cllr Tett admitted funding for children’s social care has been an “annual pressure”, however insisted it is impossible to predict challenges faced each year by the service – especially the rising number of young people entering the care system.
However Lib Dem councillor for Aylesbury North West Martin Farrow, disagreed that demand cannot be predicted, adding children’s services have not been prioritised by the county council in the past which has ultimately led to today’s budget pressures.
Addressing cabinet member for children’s services Warren Whyte, Cllr Farrow said: “Clearly statistical analysis prediction can be used to inform decisions on budgeting.
“In the years before I had been elected as councillor children’s services had not been prioritised by the Conservative administration, and in my view this has led us to the current situation.
“Can you please reassure the residents of Bucks the appropriate funding and planning is in place, and this will be appropriate to ensure the most vulnerable children in Bucks are protected in future?”
Cllr Whyte insisted he takes the children’s social care “extremely seriously” and the new team is making “great strides” towards improving children’s services – after they were rated “inadequate” by Ofsted for the second time in January.
He said: “The new children’s services team has been making great strides in improving the quality of service to our most vulnerable children and families in the county.
“So I want to reassure any residents in Bucks that we are prioritising the most in need.
“Unfortunately it has come as a cost to provide that excellent service to the most vulnerable children.
“And I am sure you would be the first to chastise me for not spending the money on the children who most need it.”
East Wycombe Independent councillor Julia Wassell, backed Cllr Farrow’s concerns, and urged children’s services chiefs to work on preventing the need for young people to enter the care system in a bid to reduce demand.
She said: “I don’t accept at all that we can’t predict demand.
“We have been in the grips of austerity for ten years, we have a government that is totally obsessed with Brexit, and during this time vulnerable children all across this country are suffering and all you can say to that is you are focusing on those most in need.
“If you don’t focus on preventative work there is going to be a higher demand at the other end.”
Cllr Tett went on to slam Cllr Wassell and Farrow’s “disgraceful” comments, accusing the pair of attempting to score “cheap and nasty” political points.
He said: “I rise as a result of what I find some of the most disappointing comments I have heard in my quite long period now at this county council from Mr Farrow and Ms Wassell.
“Normally we operate here on a very cross party basis, trying to protect the most vulnerable in our society.
“And I find their attempt to score very cheap, and quite frankly nasty political points, at the expense of vulnerable children quite reprehensible.
“The fact that they are trying to generate that we are starving children’s services of essential funding, and therefore de-prioritising children’s services is completely inaccurate, we have actually increased that budget from around £38 million to £60 million during a time when budgets are incredibly tight.
“And I think that gives the lie to quite frankly a disgraceful series of comments from the opposition.”