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'Perceived profit motive' could undermine children's services, councils warn

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Controversial government plans to allow councils to outsource children’s social care services are a “step in the right direction” but must be carefully controlled to make sure a “perceived profit motive” does not undermine public confidence, councils have said.

The warning came in a joint response from the LGA and Solace to a consultation by the Department for Education on plans to let councils outsource some social care functions to the private or voluntary sector, or to other public sector organisations.

Currently, the government can direct councils to outsource services but for some services local authorities are not free to make that decision for themselves.

The LGA and Solace said the proposals were “a step in the right direction”, adding that innovative delivery of services should not be stifled by regulations.

However, they also warned:  “We are concerned that the introduction of a perceived profit motive into decisions about our most vulnerable children and young people risks undermining public confidence in this hugely challenging work.”

They said councils should remain in charge of commissioning services, and should oversee and be held accountable for delivery.  

 “It is crucial that we do not create a situation where the easy or profitable aspects of children’s services are cherry picked,” they added.

Alan Wood, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, told LGC that if councils chose to let an outside organisation run their children’s services, they would not “completely stand outside the game.”

He said: “They are going to want clear evidence of improvement. If that is not the case they will pull it [the services] back.”

Mr Wood, director of children’s services at Hackney LBC, said some councils might be interested in forming a trust with partners to deliver children’s services, and groups of social workers might form not-for-profit organisations.

“Whatever arrangements are in place it should not lead to decisions about children being predicated by profit,” he said.

In its response to the consultation, the County Councils Network said local authorities had 90% of the capacity in children’s services which could mean they continued to provide many services.

The group called for a licensing and regulatory system to ensure that external providers had to meet the same standards as local authorities, and for the avoidance of perverse incentives and “gaming of targets”.

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