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Books balanced for now despite soaring service demand

Report highlights special educational needs and disability pressures

A pound coin on a £5 note

Surging demand for children's and adult's services is ratcheting up pressure on Leicestershire County Council’s budget, updated proposals underline.

Published today (Thursday), they show that the number of young people requiring special educational needs and disability support (SEND) has risen to record levels over recent months.

Next year alone, service demand across the council is set to ramp up costs by £24m – the biggest ever yearly rise – and by 2024, when combined with inflation, this climbs to £120m. The four-year plan sets out £80m of savings, half of which have been identified, plus an extra £7m to top up road maintenance budgets next year.

The refreshed proposals also reveal plans to maintain the existing opening hours at recycling and household waste sites, following consideration of the public’s feedback, a £100k boost for SHIRE Grants and £75k more to help Trading Standards protect residents from scams.

The £600m capital programme reflects priorities including £16m to tackle climate change, creating 6,400 more school places - 5,900 mainstream and 500 SEND – expanding adult social care accommodation and further rolling out high-speed broadband.

The rapid rise in SEND is our biggest financial risk. Other councils are wrestling with similar issues and new figures suggest we may have to find significantly more funding over the next four years, vastly outstripping the extra Government money received. The Government simply have to recognise this.

Our budget foundations remain strong and we can still balance the books for now. But we’ve saved £210m over the last 10 years and eventually, we won’t be able to do it any more. We’re expecting to hear more about the Government’s plans for funding reform in the spring and remain in regular contact with ministers and MPs to press for Leicestershire to get its fair share.

We’ve listened to concerns about reducing opening hours at waste sites and are using higher than expected Council Tax income to retain the status quo. Our Shire Grants programme and scam-busting work make such a difference to our communities and I’m pleased we can boost budgets.

Leicestershire is growing – and having roads and schools in place to support new communities is vital. Our capital programme is designed to do just that and represents the biggest investment in the county’s infrastructure for a generation. That’s why prioritising resources and improving how we work remain essential.

The £80m breaks down as £24m of detailed savings and a plan to reduce SEND costs by £17m, leaving a £39m gap.

A 3.99 per cent Council Tax increase equates to just over £1 a week and would reduce the impact on services by generating £12m next year to support vulnerable people.

  • The number of children with SEND education, health and care plans has increased by over 50 per cent since 2015 and is now at just under 4,730. A one-off investment of £30m is creating almost 700 extra places and aims to bring down costs
  • Investment in adult social care accommodation would allow 60 people a year to move into housing that helps them to live more independently
  • Leicestershire’s population is set to rise by 107,000 between 2016 and 2041

The council’s cabinet will discuss the report next Friday (7 February) – watch the meeting online.

The final budget proposals will be agreed by the county council at its meeting on 19 February.

The £120m rising costs are made up of £60m of service pressure and £60m inflation costs such as increases in supplier charges and the National Living Wage.

The £24m detailed savings include:
• Recruiting more in-house foster carers to reduce expensive placements
• Reducing adult social care costs by simplifying processes and speeding up support
• Bringing together early help and prevention services - and delivering some in-house
• Reducing disposal costs by recycling and re-using more waste
• Generating more income from property investment

The 3.99 per cent rise includes a two per cent national levy to be invested in adult social care – councils have had the option to include up to eight per cent over four years.

The capital budget is made up of one-off spend to buy or build things and invest in infrastructure.

It’s estimated the savings would lead to a reduction of around 150 full-time equivalent posts over four years although it’s expected the number of compulsory redundancies will be lower, given the scope to manage the position through staff turnover and vacancy control.

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