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Commissioner rejects 'costly' children's trust model

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Kirklees Metropolitan Council is set to enter into a formal partnership with Leeds City Council to deliver children’s services after a government commissioner rejected an option to create an independent trust due to concerns about cost and the risk of services deteriorating.

Eleanor Brazil was sent into Kirklees to assess whether services should be delivered through an alternative model after Ofsted found vulnerable children were not being protected during an inspection in October last year.

In a report completed in March, but publication delayed until yesterday due to the general election, Ms Brazil concluded that Kirklees did not have the capacity to deliver a service of the required standard.

She added that the time it would take to establish an independent trust would create a “significant risk” that “the service would further deteriorate unless sufficient effective improvement support was put in place during the setting up period.”

Ms Brazil also said establishing a formal strategic partnership with Leeds is likely to be “quicker and less costly” than establishing a trust.

Leeds has been providing short-term support to Kirklees since July, when Leeds’ director of children’s services Steve Walker began a joint role in Kirklees. Leeds deputy director for safeguarding Sal Tariq and head of children’s social work Elaine McShane also took on joint roles as part of an improvement partnership.

In response to Ms Brazil’s report children and families minister Robert Goodwill said Leeds had “responded positively” to the proposal but has “understandable desire to minimise any risk to the development of their own services”.

Mr Goodwill said detailed negotiations would be needed to formalise a long-term partnership agreement. He added that Kirklees wishes to retain its own director of children’s services and the partnership would “develop in a phased way”, with Mr Walker initially having control of children’s services in Kirklees.

Mr Goodwill said: “Issues around scope of services included in the arrangements, governance and accountability, legal, financial, and HR matters will all need careful consideration.

“Longer term Kirklees Council is interested in exploring other delivery models, working with appropriate partners, to deliver children’s social care.”

Ms Brazil found a large number of changes in children’s services management in Kirklees had not helped to provide “coherence and clarity” about service priorities.

She added that the current leadership was “beginning to demonstrate a more robust and rigorous approach to addressing the problems” but added that it was “too early to see evidence of impact”.

Ms Brazil also found there was “insufficient corporate oversight across the council, due in part to a lack of information provided by IT systems”.

Workforce instability was also highlighted, with agency staff constituting 44% of the assessment and intervention team and 32% of both the corporate parenting service and safeguarding and assurance team.

Kirklees remains in long-term dispute with trade union Unison over social workers’ pay and workloads.

Accepting the findings of the report, Kirklees leader David Sheard (Lab) said “a great deal” of changes had been made since it was completed and the council’s relationship with Leeds was “flourishing”.

He added: “These new arrangements have strengthened and stabilised the leadership of children’s services, which is vitally important at a challenging time. We are seeing clear evidence of progress, though we absolutely recognise there is still a long way to go.”

In May LGC reported that the removal of struggling children’s social care services from council control could abate under a new, cheaper model of support being developed by the Department for Education.

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