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Commissioner to oversee Birmingham children’s social care after council improvement plan found to ‘lack coherence’

Commissioner to oversee Birmingham children’s social care after council improvement plan found to ‘lack coherence’

🕔27.Mar 2014

The Government has appointed a Commissioner to oversee Birmingham city council children’s social care after concluding that efforts to improve the failing service aren’t working quickly enough.

Lord Norman Warner will lead a team of experts, including Isabelle Trowler, the Chief Social Worker, with a remit to develop a “single and coherent” improvement plan and strengthen senior management in the department.

The decision by Children’s Minister Edward Timpson comes after 12 years in which Birmingham’s services for children at risk of abuse have been designated as failing. Last year, Ofsted described the city as one of the worst places in the developed world for children to grow up in.

Mr Timpson acted after receiving a report from Professor Julian le Grand, who was appointed to conduct a fast-track inquiry into the city council’s efforts to turn around social services.

The Le Grand report found “fragile” improvement and decided there was a “considerable way” to go before any conclusion of sufficient and sustainable progress could be made.

The report was dismissive of a raft of improvement plans and management restructuring by the council: “Overall, the plans that we have seen are worthy in intent but seem either aspirational in tone and vague in specific content, or immensely detailed but lacking in strategic overview. None seem to lay out in readily accessible form the specific steps that are currently being taken or need to be taken to deliver the required service improvement.

“The panel concluded that this situation needs to be remedied as a matter of urgency. The consequence of Birmingham not having done so yet appears to be that, whilst there is evidence of steps being taken, these seem to be an eclectic series of measures that lack obvious coherence and clarity of purpose.”

The Le Grand report continued: “The signs of improvement so far are modest and evidently fragile. Given the history of changes in leadership in Birmingham, the panel is also somewhat sceptical of the ability of any new Director of Children’s Services, whatever their merits, to overcome the historical legacy of such major problems on their own.

“It also has serious doubts about the longer-term fitness for purpose or sustainability of some of the new managerial arrangements that are currently being put in place.”

The appointment of a Commissioner is one step away from removing city council control of children’s social services – a proposal considered by le Grand, but rejected partly on cost grounds.

The Commissioner’s four key priorities are:

  • To undertake a proper analysis of hundreds of children believed to be at risk but who remain unknown to social services.
  • Devise a plan to strengthen senior management capacity at the council.
  • Satisfy the Minister by June that a single and coherent improvement plan is in place.
  • Develop a five-year budget for children’s social services in Birmingham.

The appointment of Lord Warner, a former director of social care in Kent and a senior civil servant, was welcomed by the leaders of the three political parties on the city council. In a Joint response council leader Sir Albert Bore (Lab), Conservative group leader Lord Whitby and Liberal Democrat group leader Paul Tilsley said: “The analysis of the council’s past failings completed by Professor Le Grand’s review reflects on all of us. As a whole council we have not given the consistent focus that children’s services needed to see through improvements and make children safe.”

Sir Albert added: “There is no escaping from this. The report makes it clear that the position is still a frail one.

“I believe the report ends a long period of uncertainty. It should provide some real stability for staff and they can now get on with their job of working for the children of this city.”

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