A COUNCIL leader is backing calls for the Government to fully fund children’s social care as the costs faced by local councils continue to rise.
The plea, from Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council Leader, Councillor Bob Cook, comes ahead of a budget update report to the Council’s Cabinet next week.
The report will confirm that the amount the Council spends on caring for the Borough’s looked after children has risen to more than £20million per year.
And soaring demand across the country has seen the Local Government Association (LGA) call for these services to by fully-funded by Government.
Councillor Cook said: “There’s no more important responsibility for local authorities than to safeguard vulnerable children and we will do whatever it takes to ensure that happens as effectively as possible. But the combined cost of providing social care to adults and children now accounts for well over half of our annual spend on services.
“As Leader of a council that places great emphasis on protecting those most in need, I fully support the LGA’s calls for children’s social care costs to be fully-funded by Government.
“With these rising social care costs putting increasing strain on our budgets, it is more important than ever that we continue to manage and control our finances well. I am reassured that at the same meeting we’ll receive a report from independent external auditors, Mazars, praising our careful financial management, efficient and effective use of resources, and our recognition of ongoing financial constraints.”
However, in addition to highlighting the mounting pressure of rising social care costs the report also provides updates on a number of the exciting developments taking place across the Borough.
Councillor Cook said: “We remain very ambitious for the Borough and in line with our big plans for a bright future commitment we are continuing to put major investment into schools, support to businesses, housing regeneration of brownfield sites, road improvements, a new crematorium, and the new Hampton by Hilton hotel.
“The new leisure centre in lngleby Barwick is due to open in summer 2019 alongside the £3million extension to All Saints Church of England Academy and it’s going to provide local people with fantastic and much-needed facilities including a pool, gym and library.
“The original cost estimates for the building were done three years ago and costs in the construction industry have risen significantly since then. Rather than build a lesser facility that would meet the original cost estimates, we’re looking to increase our investment by £1.8million to deliver a high quality building.
“We think that’s what residents deserve, plus an investment in quality now will reduce the building’s ongoing running and maintenance costs later.”
He added: “The Globe restoration is progressing really well and there’s been an overwhelming outpouring of positivity since July’s announcements that the Council and Heritage Lottery Fund are committing funding to bring this much-anticipated project to fruition, with the world-class Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG) appointed as operator.
“There’s clearly a lot of love for the Globe among local people, so many of whom have such fond memories of the place. In fact we’ve just offered a small series of tours of the building and they were fully booked within a matter of days, but there’ll be lots more in Spring 2018.
“Since July’s announcement of our partnership with ATG we’ve been in detailed discussions and as a result, we’re looking at an additional £1million of capital investment in the theatre’s technical specifications, which will enable the Globe to host an even bigger and broader range of entertainment.
“This would be supplemented with additional investment in the early years of operation to develop audiences and attract major artists so that the Globe can really hit the ground running and establish itself as a major venue very quickly.
“Let’s not forget, the Globe will put the Borough well and truly on the map as home to the biggest venue between Newcastle and Leeds, while pulling in an estimated £18million for the economy every year.”
Following the recent discussions with the Council, ATG have moved to reiterate their ambitions for the Globe.
ATG’s Business Strategy Director, Liz Smith, said: “This is one of the most exciting projects we’ve ever been involved in. We’re really looking forward to getting in there and making an immediate impact to make the Globe a leading venue on the UK touring circuit.
“All the work that’s going on to bring this much-loved old building back to life is certainly capturing the collective interest and imagination of the public and for our part, we are absolutely intent on bringing some of the biggest names in showbusiness to Stockton-on-Tees. We can’t wait to open our doors in early 2019!”
The ‘Financial Update and Medium Term Financial Plan’ report will be considered by members of the Council’s Cabinet when they meet next Thursday (December 14). The final report on the Medium Term Financial Plan will then be considered by Cabinet and Full Council in February.