A £3 million overspend is looming in Swindon Borough Council’s budget.

Members of the authority’s Conservative cabinet were told that if things carry on as they are, by the end of March, the council will have spent £143, 217m, that’s £2.99 million over its budget of £140.22m.

And almost all that overspend will have been caused by increased expenditure on children’s services.

The council set a total of £33.7m to be spent on schools and children’s services in March, but the council’s cabinet member for finance Coun Russell Holland said that at the moment the projected spend by the department will be £37.57m – a £3.8m difference.

While the total overspend would represent only a two per cent overspend on the total council budget, the children’s services department would be overspent by 11 per cent.

Coun Holland’s report says that the overall projected overspend has increased by £879,000 since his last report to cabinet in July.

The overspend on children’s services has increased by £1.4m since then “as a result of further increased demand for placements and the impact of filling vacancies by agency staff.“There are clear risks to the council’s ability to contain spending within the overall budget die the the pressures faces and the inherent uncertainty in predicting future demand.”

Other departments in Euclid Street are predicted to hit their spending limits or even save money.

Adult services is, at the moment, looking at an underspend of £300,000, and communities and housing may save £259,000.

Specific accounts such as the dedicated schools grant – money sent by central government used to fund the council’s schools - may be overspent by nearly half a million pounds at £471,000; the increase “is principally due to pressures caused by alternative provision for excluded primary pupils.”

Coun Mary Martin, cabinet member for children and school attainment explained: “The most significant part of this overspend is from the cost of external placements for looked after children.

“As corporate parents, we need to make sure that they are in the most appropriate placement and their needs are met.

“The overspend is a combination of factors. An increase in the number of children becoming looked after, more expensive independent fostering placements, the increase in children being placed in high cost residential placements or supported accommodation with high cost care packages and the increasingly complex needs of children coming in to care.”

Coun Carol Shelley, the Labour spokesperson for children’s services, said: “Sadly this is a consequence of the government’s austerity agenda. Austerity is increasing pressures on public services as a consequence of more people falling into crisis, yet councils are having to cut back on public services as a result of government funding cuts. I believe more investment is needed to work on early prevention in local communities before people fall into crisis. We believe children’s centres are the best way to do this and it is shocking that Swindon is the only large town or city in the country without one.

“We also need to do more to avoid paying for expensive agency social workers. Currently around 50 per cent of social workers in the council are from job agencies. That’s too much and much more than many other local councils. We need to be doing much more to recruit social workers and keep them in-house.”