The Department for Education's view that varying levels of spending on children's services across England indicates that there is scope for yet further savings is "misguided and short-sighted", the Local Government Association (LGA) has said after a major study found that different levels of expenditure are inevitable.
Despite concerns among local authorities that the ongoing squeeze on budgets is placing increasing pressure on frontline services, the DfE's position in recent years has been that there is no evidence that spending more money improves effectiveness.
It argues that the fact that some authorities with lower per-head spend on children's social care achieve better outcomes than those spending more money indicates that, rather than additional funding being required, further efficiencies can be found.
However, research commissioned by the LGA has found that the main drivers of the cost of children's services are largely beyond the control of councils.
The study conducted by the consultancy firm Newton found that children's services spending by English councils in 2016/17 varied from £292 to £1,254 per child and young person.
Newton's analysis concluded that half of this variation was caused by five factors: levels of deprivation; crime rates; disposable household income; the level of unemployment; and size of the population under the age of 26.D
Eprivation was the single biggest of these factors, accounting for 31 per cent of the variation in council spending. Together the five factors altered council spending by £334 to £883 per child.
"These factors are largely outside of the control of councils, and certainly sit outside the control of children's services," the report states.
"As a consequence, variation in what authorities spend on children's services (per head of child population) is inevitable. It is not logical to expect authorities to converge on a single ‘right' value of spend. "Richard Watts, chair of the LGA's children and young people board, said the study "comprehensively disproves the notion" that the variation "is simply a result of inefficiency or poor practice".