Yesterday’s budget was a frustrating one for many in local government. Despite the fanfare of more money for local authorities, hopes were not met across the board – in particular for adult social care. That said, Rishi Sunak did unveil a range of much needed initiatives designed to secure better outcomes for citizens. Amongst the ‘good news’ was money for homelessness, £540m for family hubs (including a £200m ‘Supporting Families’ fund), a £500m household support fund, £65m to address rent arrears, early years supports, holiday activities, food and perinatal mental health.
The government has presented these as an investment in outcomes and supporting families, and it absolutely will be locally deployed to that effect. But, there was no option. As a nation we had to make this investment. The alternative is unaffordable.
The announcement of £4.8bn of new grant funding over a three-year period is welcome, but it will not sufficiently fulfil the demand in the system. Local services are already collectively challenged to prevent the needs of families from escalating further. Covid further increased demand and vulnerabilities in the system, so these measures are critical to offset what could become a lot worse.
Funding alone will never solve a financial sustainability challenge – it must be married with a focus on demand and outcomes-driven supply initiatives. However, if used wisely, the announced funds will provide capacity and scope to invest in achieving a more sustainable financial model longer term – especially in children’s services. This can only be done by shifting the balance of demand in the system, addressing the needs of local children and families, by achieving better outcomes that cost less.
In children’s services, there have been very few options to deliver affordable budgets. With continued savings targets and limited time and investment to address demand, prevention and earlier intervention services are often stripped back to a minimum once protected funding is removed. Local authorities must learn from previous grant deployment – grants can lead to fragmented activity that is at risk as soon as the funding stops, regardless of the positive impact and return on investment they achieve. Whilst it may seem aspirational, it is an opportunity that must be seized to deliver lasting impact and a shift in the profile of demand – even if arguably the funding is too little, too late.
At IMPOWER we know that better outcomes cost less. Local authorities must adopt this same philosophy to ensure additional resources are deployed most effectively.