Settlement funding has increased in recognition of pressures, including demand for children’s services. In addition, many local authorities have built up substantial reserves over recent years. It is absolutely right that they use those where necessary to protect high quality services for taxpayers.
Baby P, Victoria Climbié, Shannon Matthews—I am sure the House remembers those names. Child safety is a major concern right across our country, with councils starting no fewer than 500 child protection investigations a day. St Helens Council has almost twice as many looked-after children than the national average and has pulled £5 million from reserves to fund their care. That is unsustainable. Does the Minister really realise what is at stake? What will the Minister do to ensure that councils have the money they need to support our vulnerable children, instead of washing his hands?
This Government have ensured that all local authorities have increased resources to deal with all the various services they have to provide, including children’s services, on which, I am pleased to say, over £9 billion will be spent this year. The hon. Lady mentions reserves. She may know that last year reserves in her local authority were actually higher than they were five years ago.
We all want to live in a Britain where young people are safe, well cared for and nurtured, but for too many real life is very different. They rely instead on council safeguarding services to give them the protection they need, the very services that are facing a £2 billion funding gap and that have already overspent by £600 million. The question is simple: when can we see real action, with real money going directly to children’s services?
As I just said, £9 billion is going to children’s services just this year. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are undertaking a fresh review of the relative needs and resources of all local authorities. As part of that work, there is ongoing work with the Department for Education to understand in detail the specific drivers for children’s services up and down the country. I look forward to his contributions to that piece of work.