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Boost for Doncaster children's service plans

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Doncaster MBC’s bid to hold onto its children’s services has received a significant boost, after education secretary Michael Gove said he was willing to consider its proposals for the future.

The council was told last month that it would lose its legal responsibility for the services, in an unprecedented step. It responded by proposing an alternative model in which the service would be run by an outside trust – with ultimate responsibility remaining with the council.

A letter sent today from Mr Gove to Doncaster’s elected mayor Ros Jones (Lab) said he was willing to look at this alternative model.

It said he had altered the statutory direction issued by the Department for Education to the council, in order to “allow greater flexibility to determine how the trust should be established.” This, he said, would “enable us to discuss your central proposition of how the trust is established.”

In the letter, Mr Gove wrote: “Your central proposition is, of course, that I should take a different approach to establish the trust, with significantly greater council involvement.

“I would like, when we meet, to understand how that model would provide for a genuinely independent organisation able to operate single-mindedly to improve services for children.”

He said he also wanted to know more about “how the benefits of a more collaborative approach would be realised.”

Legal obstacles

In its response to Mr Gove’s original plan to remove the service from council control, Doncaster MBC warned of a range of complex legal issues that could stand in the way of his plans.

It said the independent report that recommended the move, which was written by the academic Julian Le Grand with support from Hackney LBC’s director of children’s services Alan Wood and former Camden LBC chief Dame Moira Gibb, had not given enough consideration to these issues.

But in today’s letter, Mr Gove said: “I am sure you will understand that detailed analysis of these areas was not within the remit of the review undertaken by Professor Le Grand, Alan Wood and Dame Moira Gibb.

“Rather, I asked them to make certain recommendations, the implementation of which could be worked through in detail in the coming months.

“I will not attempt to address in detail the full range of questions that you have set out, as these are, and always have been, matters for detailed discussion as the trust is established.”

The letter also confirmed the appointment of Alan Wood as Doncaster’s new children’s social care commissioner, tasked with overseeing the service and making sure it improves.

Council’s response

Ms Jones said in a statement that she welcomed Mr Gove’s letter.

“I am particularly pleased that he has seen the benefits of our response and is giving  serious consideration to what we believe is a compelling, accountable and well-thought out reframing of the original proposal, which has the support of the  key partner agencies involved in children’s social care, and the sector nationally,” she said.

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