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Slough will have to be pragmatic over children's trust, says new commissioner

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Slough BC’s newly appointed children’s commissioner has said she hopes the authority will be “pragmatic” about the government’s decision to impose a trust model for its struggling children’s services, despite having opposed this approach.

In an interview with LGC to mark her appointment, Eleanor Brazil acknowledged that the council’s chief executive Ruth Bagley had publicly opposed the government’s decision, announced in July, to strip the council of its responsibility for running children’s services and hand the task to an independent trust.

At the time of the announcement Ms Bagley said a trust was “not the swiftest and most effective approach to deliver improvements to children’s services and safeguard our children”.

Asked about this, Ms Brazil said she hoped staff at Slough would be “pragmatic and recognise they made their case, but it wasn’t agreed and the direction is clear”.

She said: “They will want to, in the way Doncaster did, ensure that they will now work on making sure that the trust is a good as it can be and delivers improved outcomes for young people and their families, because that’s actually what everybody wants.”

Ms Brazil will take on the Slough role alongside her job as director of children and young people’s services at Doncaster MBC. She was brought into Doncaster last year to oversee the establishment of a children’s services trust, after a series of highly critical Ofsted reports. The trust launched on 1 October.

Ms Brazil will retain her position at Doncaster, an arrangement made possible because its trust has responsibility for the operational management of children’s social care.

“While I retain the statutory responsibilities, the degree of day-to-day responsibilities is reduced,” she said. Ms Brazil expects to spend three days a week in Doncaster and two in Slough, although she will be working across both briefs continuously.

So far, few details about the process in Slough have been agreed. Ms Brazil, the council and the Department for Education have until 3 November to prepare a joint memorandum of understanding, which will give an indicative timetable for future decisions.

Ms Brazil said she would work with the council and DfE to support the establishment of the trust, while also ensuring services at the council continued to improve.

“Part of my role is to make sure that improvement to services isn’t impeded by the work to establish a trust, and indeed that it continues to progress at some pace,” she said.

One of Ms Brazil’s first pieces of work will be to learn how Slough’s particular context affects children’s services.

“The resources in Slough and the population are smaller [than in Doncaster] – that may create some issues around capacity to support such a complicated transformation programme,” she said.

“Their population is considerably more diverse than Doncaster’s. How that will impact on what we need to do I don’t know yet.”

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