‘SIGNIFICANT’ overspending in a department responsible for looking after the town’s most vulnerable children has been laid bare in a report - which revealed millions has been spent on residential care for kids.

Set to be discussed by ruling cabinet members on Wednesday, the children’s services directorate came under the spotlight for being in the red in 19 out of 23 brackets in relation to its annual budget of £53.2m.

According to forecasts for the 2023/24 financial year, bosses are set to spend £68.7m - more than £15m overbudget.

It has been blamed on residential costs for the 424 youngsters currently catered for, as well as the 83 in external care homes and a rising reliance on agency staff.

The report said: “An overspend position of £15m is currently forecast for the year - a significantly worse position than reported at quarter one and what was predicted at the start of the financial year.

“The latest forecast overspend is due to significant cost pressures in placements and increased agency spend.

“There are competitive pressures in the care market, particularly for young people with complex needs.

“It is also evident that the change to regulated provision of a number of semi-independent homes has contributed to the increase in the weekly cost charged by providers.

“We note the significant cost pressures that continue within children’s social care and the plans the executive director of children’s services, in conjunction with the director of finance, are undertaking to mitigate these pressures.

“Pressures within children’s services have increased the previous overspend by £4.6m to £15.8m currently reported at quarter two.

“The forecast overspend mainly relates to looked-after children’s placement costs and reflects an increased number of placements in residential care homes, as well as the continued competitive pressures in the children’s care home provider market.

“The council continues to face challenges - including increasing numbers and costs - in placing young children, especially those with complex or multiple needs.

“It should be noted that residential care placement moves due to breakdowns and changes due to complexity of needs are significant factors for the increased forecast costs reported.”

The department received a ‘good’ rating from Ofsted inspectors in October, which followed a fresh injection of cash from the council - more than £13m - to strengthen its workforce.

“It is likely that some of these pressures will continue over the medium term, so it remains imperative that the development and delivery of a transformation and efficiency plan to address the anticipated budget gaps over the medium term, is progressed,” the report added.

“Therefore, it is recommended that executive directors continue to provide regular updates on actions to mitigate the above costs including an update on delivery of their service reviews and future spending plans, ensuring that these are managed within agreed resource envelopes.”