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23 October 2023

Focus at this Board’s meeting

The Board members put forward the following areas to focus on at today’s meeting:

  • budget setting and process for 2024/25 and beyond and budget pressures ie increase in placement budget
  • business planning for the future
  • impact of quality of services in light of budget pressures and risks of reducing preventative activity
  • identify areas that matter most for long term success of children and young people in the three boroughs
  • commitment to involving young people in the work that AfC does.
  • choose right strategic priorities to make right decisions ie early intervention or demand led services and have evidence to support decisions
  • strategic priorities to look at independence and locality ie. young people move towards independence.

The Chief Executives from Richmond and Kingston Councils attended this meeting. 

Report from the Chair

Sian Wicks reported that performance is strong and noted the positive LA SEND area inspection held in Richmond earlier in October 2023. There continue to be challenges delivering services in a difficult environment and AfC has risen to the challenges of cost improvements by achieving £3.9m of efficiencies savings, whilst stepping up deliverables by understanding budgets, impact and risk assessments on children and young people and investing in preventative work.

A video of the young people who are representatives on the various young people’s groups and forums was shown to the Board members which added a useful reminder that the number one priority for AfC is to focus on supporting children and young people to live safe, happy, healthy and successful lives.  

Update from Chair of Audit and Risk Committee

An update from the Chairperson of Audit and Risk Committee (ARAC) was provided to the AfC Board from the committee held on 5 October 2023. 

Internal audit for Richmond and Kingston have completed three audits:

  • S17 payments - number of recommendations eg. allocation of payments to correct cost codes and audit trail of decisions
  • short breaks - no recommendations, but one control was identified requiring action
  • advisory report on school health and safety compliance

SWAP (internal audit for Windsor and Maidenhead) has carried out an audit on early interventions - early help referrals by schools to the Hub - with agreed action to ensure that schools are better informed with updates on the progress of a referral and receive appropriate feedback and work is in progress to improve Early Help forms and guidance.

Overall there has been good progress on completing recommendations from internal audits. The Board assurance framework and strategic risk register were covered in detail at the ARAC meeting. External audit is in the early planning stage. ARAC discussed the process when strategic risks remain outside the risk tolerance (there are currently four strategic risks which are being monitored closely). The Board noted a procurement update was provided to ARAC members, and one waiver relating to the contract management system was approved along with three procurement projects.

Update on AfC strategic priorities and plan

The Board received an update on:  

  • progress to date and the proposed strategic priorities
  • an outline of engagement activity 
  • feedback received from stakeholder engagement sessions, viewing corporate plans and children and young people.

In summary the AfC Board discussed at length the draft strategic plan and priorities focusing on the content, language and words, i.e. best value, sustainability, delivering of services whilst making efficiency savings within the organisation, the three councils and collaboratively with partners. Sian Wicks thanked everyone for their contribution to a full discussion.

Budget setting 2024/25

The Board received a presentation on the proposed budget for 2024/25 and were invited to to discuss and challenge officers. Pressures across all three boroughs with common themes listed below:

  • Number of placement weeks required has increased beyond what was budgeted for across all three boroughs
  • Average cost of placements has increased with price inflation outstripping what was built in - general inflation, complexity and market
  • Recruitment and retention difficulties leading to use of more expensive agency staff
  • Increased spend on legal advice due to more cases and cases taking longer
  • More young people requiring home to school transport and significant price inflation due to transport market, rising complexity if needs and general inflation
  • Councils have been clear that the continued year on year overspending is not affordable

AfC’s spend has to be within the three councils' agreed spending envelope. Placements and home to school transport continue to be huge areas of spend across all three councils and optimistic assumptions are being made for growth which are a cause for concern. Sian Wicks thanked officers and management for all the work that is taking place at every level of the budget process. 

Update from Director of Children’s Services - Windsor and Maidenhead

Lin Ferguson reported that a spending control mechanism is in place with essential spend only and currently working on growth and savings for next year. 

Demand management, ie. demand through the front door, is fluctuating. 

Figures are overall below national average and reason for this is there is robust early help provision.

Caseloads are relatively good, on average about 16 per caseworker. 

Overall performance remains very good and areas to improve are known about. 

Recruitment and retention continue to be a challenge, as people are still leaving for higher salaries elsewhere. 

With regards to RAAC in schools, one school was identified at the last Board meeting and this still remains the case. Temporary classrooms are working OK. 

Concern highlighted around the school placement software system as parents have not been able to apply for school places for their children which has put statutory timelines at risk.  

Update from Director of Children’s Services - Kingston and Richmond

Ian Dodds provided a verbal update on Richmond and Kingston’s performance.

Three key areas continue to be:

  • higher than preferable caseloads and complexity of issues faced by children and their families
  • recruitment and retention 
  • lack of placements for children who need residential care and/or specialist education provision.

The combination of these three issues is placing pressure on budgets and is impacting on the resilience of employees and therefore on teams and services.

Chief Operating and Finance Officer report

The COFO provided assurance and information on corporate and business service issues and the Board had the opportunity to comment and ask questions. The most significant executive concerns:

  • capacity of wider leadership team and invest in transformation and change
  • health and safety - maintenance of buildings
  • increase demand on legal budgets 
  • home to school transport across all three boroughs, though it is noted that Richmond has recently been given additional funding from central contingency funds.
  • cost of social care placements and complexity of need

Quarterly business plan and project update

The AfC Board received the quarterly update on business planning and project work for Quarter 2 2023-24 (July, August and September 2023).