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Facing the Cuts: The positives

By Bob Dale
BBC Kent

Rows of comoputers
Many councils are looking at streamlining their IT operations

Hard-pressed councils across Kent are increasingly looking to pool resources, in a bid to save money.

With public spending expected to be squeezed even harder in 2010/11 than in the preceding 12 months, the merging of services such as IT and human resources are being seen as a straightforward way to cut overheads, while delivering a more efficient service to the tax payer.

Thanet, Canterbury, Dover and Shepway have been heading down this route for some time, and hope to save between £2.5 million and £3 million.

Joint contracts for refuse collections are being negotiated

The trend could also spread to more front-line services. East Kent is already considering negotiating a joint contract for refuse collection, while Sevenoaks' licensing department oversees work for Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells.

Every single council which responded to a BBC Kent survey said it was looking at sharing services, either with other local authorities, or other public bodies, such as the police or health authorities.

Nationally, 96% of county and unitary councils and London Boroughs, who responded to the BBC survey, said they were moving down the route of sharing services.

Volunteers helping children

Meanwhile in Bromley, a groundbreaking project to help families with children on the at-risk register is also helping save tax payers' money.

Introduced in 2003 after the death of Victoria Climbie in North London in 2000, it sees Community Service Volunteers trained to become mentors to the families.

They are able to spend more time with affected families than official social workers can, and that way can pass on valuable life skills. They can also maintain contact after children are removed from the at-risk register.

Child protection
The CSV scheme matches volunteers with families

Of the first 20 Bromley families who went through the project, no child was referred to the Child Protection Planning process again. The average for those not included in the scheme is for 11% to be referred again within 12 to 15 months.

Although it costs £2,500 to support a family in this way for a year, it has delivered savings, by counteracting expenses such as children not attending school, or missing doctor's appointments.

If a family's situation gets serious enough to warrant a case conference this alone can cost about £50,000 to organise, a situation which has been avoided for all those involved in Bromley's project.

The scheme was also been trialled in Sunderland, and has now been adopted in Southend-on-Sea, and the London boroughs of Islington and Lewisham. Other local authorities may now examine its merits, especially given the increasing costs of social care.

Kent County Council alone has had to find an extra £5.3 million in its budget this year to cover a 21% leap in cases of child cruelty being referred to the authorities, an increase being blamed on the publicity surrounding the Baby Peter case.

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