COVID in Falkirk: Pandemic hits plans to keep children in care in the district

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Plans to make sure that all children in care in Falkirk can remain in the district to be looked after have been hampered by the Coronavirus pandemic.

Getting things back on track won’t just save Falkirk Council millions – it also means looked-after children can be near family and friends and kept in familiar surroundings.

Sending children away to residential accommodation is very expensive, and often means worse outcomes for children whose lives have already been turned upside down.

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Falkirk Council’s annual accounts – examined a meeting of the audit committee on Monday – show that a £2.3m overspend in children’s services was a major concern for the future when budgets will be even tighter.

The council’s ‘Closer to Home’ strategy is a flagship part of its ‘Council of the Future’ programme, which aims to ‘spend to save’ in order to reduce costs in the long term.

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Other costs that have not been controlled included the cost of waste collection, which increased by almost £2 million, due to changes in operating arrangements and increase in household waste tonnage arising from COVID-19.

Council leader Cecil Meiklejohn said she was eager to see Closer to Home project get back on track.

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Cecil Meiklejohn, Leader of Falkirk Council.Cecil Meiklejohn, Leader of Falkirk Council.
Cecil Meiklejohn, Leader of Falkirk Council.

She said: “I appreciate the challenge around the pandemic but the Closer to Home project really needs to deliver – not just financially, but the human aspect of it and with this continual overspend I’m concerned we’re not going to deliver on that programme.”

Chief executive Kenneth Lawrie told members: “If we are going to meet the financial targets that we have, delivering on the Closer to Home strategy is going to be fundamental to that.

“We still have a challenge in terms of delivering savings and Closer to Home is absolutely key – both the best care of our vulnerable young people and to our financial strategy.”

Gary Greenhorn, head of planning in education, said this year was looking much more positive and children’s services was looking at an underspend in the year so far.

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The accounts will also show the impact the Coronvirus has had on the council’s finances and how government support has been a massive part of the picture.

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