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Local need to shape senior structure

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The issue of central government control over local government chief officer posts has arisen again on the back of the Health and Social Care Bill.

At the behest of the Association of Directors of Public Health, the government will issue guidance, which local authorities must have regard to on the “appointment and termination of appointment, terms and conditions and management” of directors of public health. (‘Central powers over local health directors extended’)

There has been a long-standing requirement to appoint chief officers in children’s services, first in education in 1944 and then in children’s social care in 1948. The Children Act 2004 requires local authorities in England to appoint a director of children’s services. The functions of the DCS post are set out in detail, and local authorities must have regard to ministerial guidance.

New guidance is out at the end of April. Many local authorities were dismayed by the draft guidance (‘Role merger call stirs defiant response’).

The Department for Education received 58 responses; only 19% of respondents thought the guidance on the role of the DCS was too prescriptive. A local authority will have to undertake a “local test of assurance” to show they have had regard to the guidance if - as in 50% of cases, the DCS has significant responsibilities in addition to children’s services.

Many local authorities have at best only paid lip service to aspects of the current guidance and the 2004 act. How many give the post holder the job title of director of children’s services as required by subsection (4) of section 18?

Quite rightly, management arrangements have not been inspected; it is the outcomes that matter. Although the secretary of state has the power to force compliance with the law, wisdom has prevailed, and compliance has not been ordered.

I have every confidence that local authorities are the best body to devise management structures for local services based on their assessment of local need. And chief executives do not need to worry about guidance on the role of the director of public health.

John Fowler, policy manager, Local Government Information Unit

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