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Local Authorities: Vulnerable Children

Volume 653: debated on Monday 28 January 2019

6. What recent assessment he has made of the ability of local authorities to discharge their statutory responsibilities to vulnerable children. (908834)

Local authorities have been given access to more than £46 billion for the forthcoming year. That funding is largely unring-fenced, so councils can spend it on children’s services as they see fit. I am pleased that the number of local authorities whose children’s services are ranked good or outstanding is continuing to increase.

More than 50,000 British-born children with parents legally in the UK are denied access to central Government support under pernicious Home Office rules. Councils are then forced to step in to provide emergency support through children’s social services. London councils spend £53 million on that, and there is no recourse to public funds. Last year, my council spent £6.5 million. When will Ministers end their wilful blindness to the penury that the policy causes and stand up for councils in the face of this blatant Home Office cost-shunt?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. We engage with the Home Office regularly to deal with the funds for unaccompanied asylum seekers and other such people. I am happy to realise that issue in the next of my regular meetings with the Immigration Minister.

Permitted development rights have been a disaster for my consistency of Harlow, as London councils have socially cleansed their residents and sent 400 troubled families to our constituency. We do not have the resources to look after them in the way they should be. Will my hon. Friend look at permitted development rights, undertake a review and ensure Harlow Council has the resources it needs to look after those 400 extra troubled families?

I will be delighted to meet my hon. Friend to discuss that issue. Of course, vulnerable children must be housed appropriately and looked after, but we should ensure that that is done as closely as possible to where it makes sense for their communities.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I was frantically trying to think of a question when you called me just now. I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

The number of children in need is up, the number of looked-after children is up and the numbers of child protection plans and child conferences are up, yet the Government grant has gone down. This year, children’s services face a £1 billion funding gap—£3 billion by 2024-25—and the Local Government Association, the Children’s Commissioner, Action for Children and our councils have all warned that children will be at risk. So where’s the money?

The hon. Gentleman should know that last year £1 billion more was spent on children’s services than when we came into office and that the recent Budget announced an extra £420 million that could be spent on children’s services. Government Members are, however, concerned with outcomes, not just the amount of money we plough into things, which is why the Department for Education is working closely with the best-performing areas to spread best practice across the country.