Torbay Council overspend of £½m as vulnerable people suffer
An overspend of more than £1 million is projected for a Westcountry council after budgets were blown in children's services and adult social care – while millions are being spent on upgrading buildings.
Opposition leaders have accused Torbay Council of prioritising the built environment over vulnerable people.
But executive members insist the top priority is to protect those in need.
At a full council meeting on Thursday, members will be told that the council had already spent more than £500,000 more than expected by the end of the first three months of the financial year.
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Even with recovery plans in place, the overspend is expected to be more than £1.1 million by the end of the year.
The annual projection breaks down to an overspend of £750,000 in children's services, which has been under special measures since 2010, to monitor progress after the Government concluded that improvements were not happening fast enough.
This year's excess spending is due to a rise in the number of children in care compared to last year, with 219 in April 2011, up to 262 in January and now at 247. It is also caused by a vacancy rate of social workers of more than 40 per cent, causing a reliance on agency staff. The final figure includes a spend of £250,000 on a campaign to recruit full-time social workers.
Adult social care has overspent by more than £550,000 after 16 more adults with care needs moved into the Bay from other areas. Meanwhile the spatial planning department has spent £340,000 too much, in part because of higher-than-expected concessionary fare costs. Some other departments had returned a small underspend to mitigate the damage to the final figure.
Councillor Steve Darling, leader of the Lib Dem group, said: "What's gone wrong is that there's significant investment into the built environment, but they are failing to acknowledge the needs of people.
"It's great to see Torquay's seafront promenade being refurbished at a cost of £2.5 million, but in reality, behind closed doors, people are facing a real change in the delivery of social services."
Chris Lewis, executive lead for Children, Schools and Families, admitted the overspend was "worrying". But he said: "We have not cut any of the safeguarding for children, because it's vital. The safety of our children is paramount, and if we have to overspend to protect our children, then we will do that."
He said more emphasis was being placed on early intervention and working with troubled families to prevent children going into care.
Mr Lewis said the social service recruitment drive seemed to be working well, and could save £1 million per year in agency staff costs.
Darren Cowell, the authority's only Labour councillor, said there was major concern about next year's budgets, when the council will be forced to reduce spending by a further £10 million, in line with all local authorities.