Education secretary Michael Gove has been accused of a “fundamental misjudgment” following his shock decision to withdraw all government funding for sector-led improvement of children’s services.
LGC has seen an email from children’s improvement board director Colin Hilton to colleagues in which he criticises the “unexpected and shocking” decision to cut the £8.5m funding due for 2013-14.
The decision puts children’s improvement work and about 10 jobs at risk causing some to question ministers’ commitment to wider local government self-improvement schemes.
Mr Hilton’s email said: “In short I think it is outrageous and, irrespective of my personal position, a fundamental misjudgment by Michael Gove.”
The improvement board, established by the LGA, Solace and the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, was set up in 2011 as part of the ‘sector-led improvement’ system designed by the LGA and others to replace the Audit Commission’s centralised inspection regime.
Mr Gove had confirmed the 2013-14 funding as late as November last year, saying “the best people to help lead improvements in children’s services are those from local government”.
At the time, the board described Mr Gove’s comments as “clear recognition that sector-led improvement is the way forward”.
However, the education secretary’s change of mind has caused some to question the implications for sector-led improvement.
Graeme McDonald, director of Solace, said: “The premature end of CIB [children’s improvement board] funding further muddles the government’s confused approach to improvement in local services.
“Different departments and inspectorates are taking conflicting approaches and there seems no consistent view as to what works. We have already seen Ofsted extend its remit to include improvement support - in contrast to the prevailing view elsewhere.”
The funding cut, alongside council budget cuts, “will prove to be a significant step in the return of centralised bureaucratic regulatory and performance regimes,” Mr McDonald added.
The DfE’s decision comes just two weeks after the Department for Communities & Local Government announced it would cut the LGA’s 2013-14 funding by £2m. The association’s leadership board was due to discuss the cut this week. Every area of work, including sector-led improvement, is set to be scrutinised.
A senior LGA source said cuts to sector-led improvement would be “one of the options” for discussion but added that this did not mean the improvement programme as a whole was at risk.
“There is absolutely no doubt that the principle of sector-led improvement is absolutely signed up to. There are still significant resources in the system, both from DCLG and from within councils,” they said.
A DCLG spokesman said: “The government supports sector-led improvement and still gives the LGA £27m.”
A DfE spokeswoman said: “The department always intended that its support would be time limited and that, in the longer term, sector-led improvement should mean ‘sector funded’.”
The Department of Health said £800,000 funding for sector-led improvement in adult services in 2013-14 had been confirmed.
The story so far…
March 2011: Children’s improvement board established
November 2012: Education secretary Michael Gove confirms board will be funded in 2013-14
April 2013: Department for Education informs board there will be no 2013-14 funding