Transformation of children's services is now bearing fruit

Funny little child girl smiling embrace foster care parent mum, adorable sweet small kid adopted dau

Our additional investment in this service has resulted in improvements in the outcomes of our children - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Setting the council budget is part of the natural rhythm that one witnesses in the town hall.

Developing a budget that addresses the key challenges that our communities face means that you have a solid foundation for the forthcoming financial year.

Last year we gave particular priority to transforming children’s services and this is now bearing fruit, both in terms of better outcomes for our children in need in Torbay and significant financial savings for us as a local authority.

This year’s budget setting has been particularly challenging with uncertainty over how the extra costs associated with the pandemic will be recovered.

When we prepared our initial budget proposals, we identified a number of Covid-related financial pressures, but I’m pleased to say that since the Government has covered a significant proportion of Covid costs, we are able to release some of these funds.

However, we are still left with a financial shortfall.

We have also freed up some additional funding through making significant changes in the management and practice of children’s services over the past year. 

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Our additional investment in this service has resulted in improvements in the outcomes of our children and an overall financial benefit.

In the last year, we have seen the number of our children in Torbay in costly residential care reduce from 46 in October 2019, to 23 in September 2020.

We are also set to recruit more foster families in the last year than were recruited in the five previous years.

Our learning academy, Torbay’s three-year training plan to support newly qualified social workers, is valuing our new social workers and improving practice for those children in need in our communities.

In children’s services this year we are set to save over £4million.

All this combined means that we are now able to invest more in Torbay than we had originally planned as well as building up Torbay Council’s reserves to levels that haven’t been seen in 20 years, including a £1.6million Covid pressures reserve to help us over the next few months.

As a result we have amended our budget proposals for 2021-22 and they are now available on Torbay Council’s website for you to examine.

They will be considered by full council next month.

We have listened to your feedback and the budget proposals now include plans to invest more in services our communities value the most.

We want to invest in our people, for example including £300,000 for residents facing financial hardship and £150,000 to reinstate subsidies for local bus services.

Torbay’s economy has been hit hard by Covid so we are proposing to invest £500,000 in our Economic Repositioning Plan, which aims to help the local economy recover from the impacts of the pandemic as quickly as possible.

We also want to spend £50,000 on replacing Paignton seafront festoon lighting, which many residents said was important to them.

Furthermore, we want to tackle climate change so we are proposing to invest £150,000 over three years to deliver a tree-planting scheme.

In addition to this, we are exploring opportunities for residents to make their homes more environmentally sustainable, as well as other climate change initiatives.

Yet again, the Government has not tackled the long-term unsustainable funding of social care services and is, therefore, passing the burden of  the growing costs of adult social care services onto our communities through a three per cent charge in line with council tax.

We are also still facing financial pressures, as the majority of the recent funding announcements have not led to an increase in our budget for 2021-2022.

Both of these factors mean that an increase in council tax is inevitable so we can maintain the services we have to deliver by law.

However, we hope our plans to reinvest in local services albeit on a one-off basis, will give us more time to work with our communities on longer-term solutions to help Torbay thrive in the future.