A North London council has called opposition attempts to block the opening of a new £2.2m children’s care home ‘disappointing but not surprising’. Brent Council is looking to buy a five or six-bedroom property in Wembley to help children transition to independent living and reduce the cost of sending some out of the borough.
The Cabinet signed off on the plan last year after being awarded £1.1m by the Department for Education (DfE) to develop a children’s care home in the borough, which the council is required to match, However, Brent Conservative Group have submitted a ‘call-in’ to try to overturn the decision.
Signed by all five of Brent’s Conservative councillors, the call-in claims the £1.1m being invested by the council is ‘not the best use of limited funds’, as well as criticising the consultation process and that the property would sit within the Barn Hill Conservation Area.
It states: “There has been absolutely no democracy or transparency in the matter, residents feel they have been rail-roaded into accepting any decision the council makes. The council is not acting in the interests of the residents in this matter.”
It added: “A similar care home was opened in Barn Hill which caused untold problems for those living in the area. It was only shut down when the local MP (Barry Gardiner) intervened. The residents do not want to have to deal with a similar occurrence.”
The children’s home is estimated to cost £900,000 for staff resources and a further £200,000 for running costs – which includes the repayment cost of borrowing £1.1 million over 40 years. Four of the bedrooms would be used for young people with social, emotional and behavioural needs, whilst the extra one or two bedrooms would provide a staff bedroom and facilities or an office.
Currently there are 19 children and young people placed in a residential home by the council, at an average cost of £7,739 per week. The new children’s home would care for three individuals at a time for around 16 weeks, enabling nine people to be supported each year – with a fourth bed kept for emergencies. The expected weekly cost for this per placement would be £5,309.
In response to the call-in, Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Schools, Cllr Gwen Grahl, called the decision to try and block the decision ‘extremely disappointing but not surprising’. She claimed that the number of children being taken into care was increasing and their outcomes getting worse.
Cllr Grahl said :”we want to support our children but also tackle profiteering in private children’s homes. […] These young people are not being provided with the stable environment they need, rooted in a community they can rely on with friends and a good education; and the soaring costs of private placements are sapping funds from crumbling council budgets.”
She added: “The DfE have been incredibly supportive of our plans, making it frankly bewildering that local Conservative councillors wish to block investment from their own government. This isn’t just a policy check-box; it’s about providing a safety net for the children who need that stability most.
Council documents suggest that the project could save the local authority up to £461,000 a year as it will help cut the distance some children will be sent to find a place. In August 2022, Brent’s placements were sent an average of 24.4 miles from their home address at a weekly cost of £4,700 – £200 above the national average – with the most expensive being £10,587.
However, this is now dwarfed by the current most expensive placement, which is 130 miles away and costs £17,122 a week, with the next two highest being 300 miles away and costing £13,906 and £13,726 respectively.
This decision will return to the Cabinet later this month where it will again be voted on. Cllr Grahl has pledged to ‘fight tooth and nail’ to make sure the project can move ahead.