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LGC maps the changing landscape in children's services

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This week LGC has mapped the progress towards new delivery models for children’s services being implemented across the country.

Broadly there seem to be two factors at play: a move to delivering services at scale, bringing efficiencies and improved services, or spinning out council services into trusts following service failure.

If a major issue faced by children’s services is rising demand at a time of dwindling resources then the logic of delivering children’s services, particularly social care, at scale appears sound. It has certainly reaped dividends for London’s tri-borough collaboration in which councils are judged either good or outstanding.

However, the rationale is less obvious behind removing the delivery of children’s services from councils in favour of a contracting and commissioning model which is yet to bring results.

The government appears keen to press ahead regardless: last month Sandwell MBC was ordered to set up a trust despite local resistance while over the past 12 months. Birmingham and Sunderland city councils appeared to jump before they were pushed when they announced plans to create trusts following government intervention.

Ministers’ ambition is that a third of children’s services should be operating under a new model by the end of the parliament. If all the models identified by LGC as in development come to fruition the government will be almost halfway to its 2020 target in terms of the proportion of population covered.

Last December then prime minister David Cameron announced children’s services judged inadequate by Ofsted would have just six months to improve or face being taken over, either by a trust or a high performing council. Since then six councils have been awarded Ofsted’s lowest rating.

But such top-down imposition is unlikely to prove a panacea, especially if there is local resistance. Speaking to LGC, Slough Children’s Services Trust chief executive Nicola Clemo noted recent changes in senior personnel at Slough BCl had made life easier, demonstrating that the home council’s influence was still strong and that, as ever, individuals and relationships matter more than structure.

High performing children’s services, meanwhile will be allowed to bid for additional freedom in how they deliver services under the Children & Social Work Bill’s innovation clause, which has been amended by ministers to make clear it should not lead to the privatisation of services. Although the amended clause was recently defeated by peers, it is likely the Conservative majority in the Commons will reinstate it.

Association of Directors of Children’s services president Dave Hill recently lamented this variation in approach, warning it could lead to a “good group of authorities that just get better and better because they have the freedoms [while] the rest are labouring under the same old rules.”

Every place will be different and ministers must continue to keep an open mind to a range of solutions rather than rush to strip councils of their children’s services. While this may appear to be decisive action the evidence suggests it offers no guarantee of tackling the underlying issues.

 

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