THE council’s children’s services department overspent on its budget by more than £1.3 million.

New figures outlining the authority's financial position for the year just gone highlight increasing demand in social care staff budgets and “significant pressures” from providing home-to-school transport for children with special educational needs contributed to the cost.

Despite underspending on providing placements for children by £1.2 million, the total spending over the course of 2018/2019 led to an overspend on the budget of £1.37 million.

A Wokingham Borough Council (WBC) report read: “The establishment of the Children’s Continuous Improvement Board in the latter part of the year has brought an enhanced level of scrutiny and understanding on the complex areas of pressure experienced.

“This has provided for some initial stability against what was a worsening position, and ensures appropriate plans are in place going forward to bring costs in line with available resources.”

The overspend comes after a series of concerns were raised about the state of WBC's children’s services in the past year.

Watchdog Ofsted slammed the department’s “deterioration” in November 2018 before councillors raised concerns about the lateness of social workers reports in January.

Read about Ofsted's damning report here

In February, council bosses promised £1.1 million would be put towards recruiting more staff in the department as part of WBC’s budget and soon after councillor Shahid Younis was forced to explain social workers were late in revisiting vulnerable children because they had such high caseloads.

Most recently, Ofsted criticised the council’s provisions for SEND children after it found a high staff turnover led to “instability” in the social care workforce.

Liberal Democrats leader Lindsay Ferris said: “This area was neglected for 2-3 years before the new Director for Children’s Services was appointed.

“Children’s Social Workers have now got significant workloads. This has to be kept under control, otherwise, we could have a repeat of what happened a few years ago in various authorities.

“We have just had the Ofsted SEND report which showed how poorly the Council was doing.

“Even as opposition councillors we would see there was a problem there. This is why we proposed the £70K for SEND services in our Budget amendment and also in Children’s mental health area (CAMS) where we proposed £230k.

“Both these spends would have saved the council significant (continuing) spends in other associated areas.

“The executive members have not appreciated this aspect and have instead just tried to cut budgets. It is so important that you ensure there are growth areas to allow greater savings in other areas.”

Read also: Council to invest more than £1 million in recruiting social workers

Across its five central departments, WBC overspent by £780,000 despite underspending by more than £800,000 in two of these departments.