Both the government and the Conservatives who run Herts County Council must accept responsibility for the forecast £16 million overspend which has resulted in the council freezing the recruitment of all but essential staff, according to local Liberal Democrats. The overspend is mainly because of the increasing amount that the council is spending on children that they look after and on the cost of transporting children with special needs to school.
Liberal Democrat leader of the opposition at the council, Councillor Steve Jarvis said, “There are several factors which have brought the council to this state of affairs. For years Hertfordshire, along with other councils, has seen the government cut the amount of funding that is available – for looking after vulnerable children and educating those with special needs along with many other things. The longer this goes on the bigger the impact this has.
“However, the Conservative administration at the council has not done enough to minimise the effect of this. Many children looked after by the council live in homes outside Hertfordshire run by private equity companies who simply want to make as much money as possible from vulnerable children. The council should be doing far more to bring most of these Hertfordshire children back to Hertfordshire, in homes run by the council, possibly in partnership with the charity sector. With an average cost per child of nearly £350,000 a year for each child in a commercial home this could deliver massive savings, as well as better care for the children involved.
“The council is also moving too slowly and started too late on expanding special school places, reducing the number of children with special needs that must travel long distances, often at considerable cost to the council, to get to school.
“Given the hole that the council is now in, freezing recruitment for all non-essential positions may be the only thing to do. However, it is not a long-term solution and will have an increasing impact the longer it remains in operation, so people in Hertfordshire will pay the price for the Conservatives’ failure both locally and nationally.”