A cash-strapped council has revealed it slashed £55,000 off the weekly cost of social care for just one child after a review.
Cambridgeshire County Council was spending £85,000 a week on the unidentified minor’s social care placement.
The staggering sum is equivalent to £4.42 million a year – 110 times the £40,000 bill to hold a violent prisoner in a Category A prison.
It was reduced to £30,000 a week – or £1.56 million per year – following a review by officers at the authority, which is run by a coalition of Lib Dem, Labour and independent councillors.
Council chief executive Stephen Moir revealed the outlay during a meeting of the strategy, resources and performance committee where he claimed similar situations were ‘replicated across all upper-tier local authorities in England’.
Despite the council’s own profligacy, he complained the social care market was ‘broken’ and providers had a ‘stranglehold’, causing costs to soar.
‘These placements continue to cost this council an exorbitant amount of money because the national market is broken,’ Mr Moir said.
‘We have six young people, because of the high acuity needs they have, costing this council currently £200,000 a week because of the nature of their placement needs. This is replicated across all upper-tier local authorities in England.
Cambridgeshire County Council l has revealed it slashed £55,000 off the weekly cost of social care for just one child after a review (stock image)
The council was spending £85,000 a week on the unidentified minor’s social care placement (stock image)
‘This system is one that, from a financial perspective and a delivery perspective, is, without doubt, in my view, in crisis nationally and something needs to be done.’
Mr Moir blamed the government for not implementing the independent MacAlister report into children’s social care, which last year recommended a ‘comprehensive reform programme’ costing £2.6 billion over four years as the system was hit by a ‘trajectory of rising costs’.
But the TaxPayers’ Alliance said: ‘While any child deserves the highest standard of care, councils must ensure they’re delivering that care in a cost-effective way.’
And Steve Count, the county council’s Conservative group leader, said while care providers charged ‘extortionate amounts’ for children placed in care with little notice, the case referred to by Mr Moir sounded like a longer-term placement as a review was carried out.
He added: ‘How on earth did that come about? It concerns me about the level it started off with but also the level of saving with no depletion of service to that child.’
The council refused to answer a series of questions about the care of the child in question, claiming they could be identified.
These included how long the £85,000 had been paid for and when the officers’ review had taken place.
But Mr Count added: ‘It doesn’t seem to me that you could identify an individual from how long you’ve been paying if you don’t name the supplier.’
The child in question needs seven dedicated members of staff for their care, Mr Moir told the council meeting last week.
At present, the council is spending £150,000 per week on social care for the five most expensive child cases, ranging from £24,371 up to £41,608 each.
Last month, it emerged Wirral Council in Merseyside was forking out £42,000 a week on one child under its care. Nearby Knowlsey was last year revealed to be spending £49,860 a week for one child – more than £2 million a year.
In 2021, the bill for children in a care home was typically £3,800 a week, or £197,600 annually, according to a report commissioned by the County Councils Network.
It also predicted the number of children entering care would soar 36 per cent to 95,000 by 2025, while local authority spending would reach £7.4 billion that year, compared to £3.8 billion in 2015.
A spokesman said the report had not been updated but its figures were ‘still relevant’.
The Competitions and Markets Authority has warned that private equity firms have been moving into the sector.
Such businesses have been criticised for a culture of excessive debt and asset stripping while reaping huge profits and dividends.
There were just over 82,000 children in care in England at the end of March this year, according to Department for Education figures.
Around 70 per cent are in foster care, with 15 per cent living with someone with parental responsibility and the remainder in children’s homes, supported accommodation or secure units.
A Department for Education spokesman said: ‘Profiteering in the children’s homes market is wholly unacceptable, which is why we are working with Ofsted and the sector to develop a new financial oversight regime.
‘More widely, we are investing £259 million to support local authorities to create more placements for children in high-quality and safe homes and have backed our children’s social care reform plans with £200 million, to make sure there is earlier support for families, reducing the need for crisis response at a later stage.’