Children will be losing in the long run

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Do you prick up your ears when you hear that the way local government is funded is changing? You’re unusual. For many of us, the words ‘local government finance’ trigger glazing of eyes and wandering attention.

That’s our mistake. It’s one of the most important decisions a minister can make. Why? Because it determines how much money will be available for the services children and families use every day, from children’s centres to youth services.

Central funding for local authorities is set to reduce over the next five years, and a much greater proportion expected to come from local council tax and business rates. So, it’s worth looking at how we might expect services for children and families to fare up to 2020.

Along with National Children’s Bureau and The Children’s Society, we examined just how much money has been allocated for services like children’s centres and substance misuse programmes. The ones that step in before problems escalate to crisis point.

Nationally, between 2010 and 2020, the central government allocation will fall from £3.2 billion to £939 million in real terms. That is a drop of 71 per cent.

This fall has knock on effects. Since 2010, we have seen spending on some really important services fall at a local level. Spending on children’s centres is down by a half and young people’s services down nearly a third. Uncertainty about future funding poses some real problems for the councillors who have to make our local books balance.

Six in ten local councillors believe that the reduction in central government funding will mean a reduction in early intervention services in their local authority.

With competing priorities and less money there are tough choices to make. But early intervention services have their backers.

Nine in ten councillors believe that services which intervene early are a high priority for their local authority.

From 2020, local councils will be able to keep 100% of the money from business rates to spend on local services. This will replace the current early intervention grant from central government, which will be phased out. It will then be up to local councils to decide how much to spend on early intervention services.

There is a real concern that areas with strong local economies will benefit while poorer areas, where demand for such services is often higher, may struggle.

Six in ten councillors are concerned that it won’t be possible to maintain the current level of funding for early intervention services, despite the potential to raise further revenue from business rates.

What can we do? Well, to start with we need to make sure we can still see how much is being spent on early intervention – without it there will be no accountability or transparency. The Government needs to measure this as funding changes.

We need to make sure that children don’t pay the price as some local authorities struggle to raise enough money. We want central government to create an early intervention ‘top up’ for local government. MPs from all parties have said that stopping problems escalating is the way to go.

Giving all children the best start in life should be a shared national goal. It’s time to make sure local authorities the resources they need to support children and families.

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