Worcestershire CC has been ordered by the government to consider alternative models for delivering children’s services after a commissioner questioned the council’s capacity to address “deep-seated cultural problems”.
Under the terms of a revised direction by education secretary Justine Greening published yesterday, the council has been told to develop an options analysis with government commissioner Trevor Doughty and recommend a model of delivery by December.
Mr Doughty was appointed to review Worcestershire’s services in March after an Ofsted report in January identified widespread and serious failures following repeated ‘inadequate’ ratings dating back to 2010.
His damning report was completed in June but not published until yesterday due to a delay caused by the general election. It found service failings were “deep seated and complex and are continuing”. The report added that these failures appear to have “become embedded in the thinking and behaviours throughout the whole service and are widespread”.
The council has launched a new improvement plan this week, but Mr Doughty expressed concern that Worcestershire’s leader Simon Geraghty (Con), former chief executive Clare Marchant, director of children’s services Catherine Driscoll, and former cabinet member for children Marc Bayliss (Con) had not fully accepted his findings.
He said: “I am concerned that there is an over optimism around the improvement plan along with a reluctance to undertake a systemic analysis of the issues and a better prioritised series of actions aimed at addressing the deep-seated cultural problems.”
Worcestershire has been ordered to consider a range of options for children’s services delivery including contracting a “managing agent”, which could either be an individual, another council, or a private company to manage services.
Other options include outsourcing parts of the service or the service as a whole, or forming a “strategic partnership” with another local authority.
Various options to create a new company to deliver services will also be considered. These include a joint venture with another public or private body, a company wholly-owned by the council, a staff-owned mutual, or independent company owned by its board.
Other options are establishing a community interest company or a company with charitable status.
Mr Doughty has appointed Essex CC as Worcestershire’s “improvement partner” during the process.
His June report said the council’s view at senior level, supported by the chair of the Local Safeguarding Children Board, was that the “fundamental building blocks” were in place for improvement plans to succeed.
But Mr Doughty said there was a lack of evidence that the improvement plan was delivering genuine benefits for children and their families “beyond process and structural change”. He said the two primary examples were the inadequacy of targeted early help and the “dysfunction” of a “family front door” service which assesses initial referrals.
Worcestershire has been ordered to submit a full business case for its chosen model of alternative deliver by March next year and devise a new improvement plan.
Following the publication of the government direction, Andy Roberts (Con), cabinet member for children and families, said the county “remain absolutely committed” improving its services and added the council had already allocated an extra £5.1m into improving children’s social care this year.
A recommendation to voluntarily place children’s services into an alternative delivery model will considered at a cabinet meeting on 28 September.