UP TO £2.2m will be spent on hiring new council staff to help children’s services save money by cutting spending on ‘looked after children’.

The amount will come from the ‘Invest to Save Reserve’ pot, which the council uses to make a “long-term recurring saving”.

Hampshire County Council has approved the expenditure of up to £2.2m to employ 17 people, which will help the county children’s services roll out a savings proposal to help towards £132m council-wide savings needed for 2025/26.

Some of those proposals include releasing the Aviary Nursery in Eastleigh, currently owned and managed by HCC, to be run by an independent provider and creating a regional unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC) brokerage service that will help local authorities identify suitable placements to care for and support these children.

READ MORE: Council leader vows to go 'full speed ahead' with unchanged cabinet

It also includes some structural changes involving the transformation of the HCC’s social care services that are delivered by the family support service (FSS) and the children’s assessment and safeguarding teams (CAST).  

The transformation will combine both services into one called ‘family hub,’ which will target early help and children in need.

Changes in libraries will also be made as part of the plan, which will see further development of community hubs in libraries, relocation of services, optimization of stock and purchasing, and reduction of library staff.

Hampshire Chronicle: Hampshire County Council. Picture: David George

In order to save £11.1m, children’s services wants to use £2.2m from the £5m ‘Invest to Save Reserve’.

While council cuts could include the closure of several tips, the reduction in cultural, homelessness, and community transport financial support, higher car parking fees, and the end of school crossing patrols, questions were raised about the possibility of using the ‘Invest to Save Reserve’ to reduce the deficit.

SEE ALSO: Thousands of emergency food parcels distributed in Basingstoke last year

But while the council said that “in theory, the money could have been used to meet the budget deficit”, since it is one-off funding, “it does not help to address the underlying recurring deficit that we face”.

A spokesperson for the council said: “It makes more sense to use this funding to create long-term recurring savings that will help balance the budget from 2025/26 onwards.”

Director of children’s services Stuart Ashley said the funding will allow his directorate to recruit 17 people over two years to support the delivery of the more than £11m savings by 2025/26 and onwards.

Mr Ashley said: “The £2.2m that has been approved is for two years only. This much-welcomed one-off investment will fund the support required to deliver over £11m of recurring savings from the children’s services directorate budget by 2025/26 and onwards. It will enable staffing resource of 17 people to be in place over the two years from April 2024 through to the end of March 2026.

 “This resource will be employed predominantly to support the children’s social work teams to reduce the county council’s expenditure on children looked after by the local authority. This will be achieved through embedding new, and further improving processes and practises to help maintain more children safely in their homes. 

SEE MORE: Transport secretary pledges funds to end 'reactive' patchwork pothole repairs in town

“We will achieve this by identifying and addressing any needs at an earlier stage thereby slowing the number of children that need to come into care. Additionally, the changes will help reduce the number of higher cost care placements required.”

A Hampshire County Council spokesperson said: “We’ve always had a strong track record of managing public finances prudently and responsibly – making the best use of limited funds and using reserves to manage budget shortfalls along the way.

 “This is precisely what we’ve been doing and will keep doing as we seek ways to address the anticipated recurring £132m shortfall in our budget from April 2025 onwards to ensure we can continue to support the most vulnerable in our communities for whom we have a legal responsibility, such as children at risk of harm, abuse, and neglect, children and adults with disabilities and additional needs, and growing numbers of older residents with complex care needs.”