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Nicky Morgan: Government has lacked focus on children's services

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Former education secretary Nick Morgan has accused the government of a lack of political focus on children’s social care since Theresa May became prime minister and warned it may not be possible for councils to continue to protect services as austerity continues.

Ms Morgan, who is now chair of the Commons Treasury committee, was sacked by Ms May soon after she took office in July 2016.

Speaking at the New Local Government Network conference yesterday, Ms Morgan said: “Local authorities have done a very good job in protecting children’s social services from financial pressures but I think now it’s becoming harder, if not [im]possible, to completely protect them.”

She said standards in children’s social care services had risen as a result of reforms put in process while she was secretary of state.

“There have been some dramatic improvements in this area but I have to be honest, in the first 18 months or so after the change of leadership, I don’t think it had the political attention that it was getting and it needed,” Ms Morgan said.

The Local Government Association has warned children’s social care services are facing a £2bn funding gap by 2020, with early intervention services being sacrificed to meet demand for statutory services.

But Ms Morgan said the new children’s minister Nadhim Zahawi is “fired up” in his new role and called on councils to put their views on the future of services across.

Discussing the section 114 order issued by Northamptonshire CC earlier this month, Ms Morgan agreed that local government had reached the limit of its ability to absorb austerity and said the Treasury committee is likely to return to the issue.

She added: “I think Northamptonshire and social care has resulted in pressure from local authorities to MPs to ministers.

“Generally I think it would be fair to say, certainly in Westminster, there is a view there is only so much more that local authorities and government more generally can take.”

When asked why adult social care had emerged as more of a political priority than support for vulnerable children, Ms Morgan suggested constituents were more likely to raise the issue with their MPs.

She said: “The people using adult social care, their families are more articulate.

“I’m generalising in the way services work but inevitably the very vulnerable young people who need places of safety, to be adopted and fostered, just don’t have the advocates coming to MPs’ surgeries, for example, in the way that our constituents say ‘we can’t find a care home for mum’.”

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