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Consultants to rescue children’s social services as council admits ‘we don’t have skills to do the job’

Consultants to rescue children’s social services as council admits ‘we don’t have skills to do the job’

🕔13.May 2014

Birmingham City Council will pay consultants to sort out its failing children’s social services department after admitting it has “neither the skills nor the objectivity” to deliver improvements.

The requirement for outside help is so urgent normal tendering requirements will be bypassed enabling the council to enter into negotiations with a single company.

Normal practice would involve a lengthy procurement process, allowing firms to bid for the work.

But the council says it doesn’t have the time to trawl the market.

The cabinet is expected to approve negotiations with an as yet un-named Improvement Partner after being told about a race against time to convince the Government that services for vulnerable children can be turned around five years after being placed in special measures.

Education Secretary Michael Gove has appointed Lord Warner as Commissioner overseeing Birmingham children’s social services and the council has been warned it could lose responsibility for running the services if improvements are not delivered quickly.

A stark cabinet report by Peter Hay, Strategic Director for People, says the council has managed to prevent social services from being “derailed” and there are some green shoots showing in the recovery plan, but “the situation is still extremely fragile and precarious”.

The latest Ofsted inspection of services for vulnerable children will be published at the end of the month, but it is not expected to find sufficient improvement.

Mr Hay adds: “Our analysis of the history of failure in children’s services, supported by the view of the Department for Education, was clear that the service had neither the skills nor the objectivity to deliver the improvements which children and young people in Birmingham deserve.

“We recognise that the injection of external expertise, capacity and challenge is critical for success.

The urgency of the improvement work in children’s services is such that we cannot afford the delay that would follow from a more formal procurement process.”

Mr Hay sets out the qualities that the council’s improvement partner must possess:

  • Expertise in design and delivery of transformation programmes for children’s services. We need someone who has done this before.
  • The ability to support us both strategically and operationally through the provision of a multi-disciplinary team comprising both senior advisers and qualified, experienced social work professionals.
  • Credibility at a senior level within the sector, within the directorate and at a political level, demonstrated by a track record of successfully working with us to drive improvement.
  • Knowledge and insight to enable us to benefit from best practice and new initiatives and developments.
  • Deep understanding of the specific culture and context of children’s services in Birmingham, resulting in the ability to hit the ground running and quickly deliver improvements for children and young people in the city.

Mr Hay’s cabinet report makes it clear that the next few months will make or break the recovery plan: “Since July 2013, we have spent nine months managing the crisis in our service and started the long journey of improvement. We have avoided derailment and have now reached some level of stability.

“We have seen some positive shifts and progress since July. These are the first important steps in turning around the service but we know that the change and improvement is fragile and we have much more to do.

“There has been an unprecedented honesty and transparency in the assessment of the current issues and the challenges we face from the Strategic Director for People, the cabinet member, the leader of the council and the chief executive. We have seen a paradigm shift for the council with acknowledgment that this is not a single service issue but a collective responsibility.

“It is acknowledged, however, that the situation is still extremely fragile and precarious. It is too early to see a significant impact on practice. Whilst there are green shoots, there are further areas which need focussed attention.

“We have considerable work to do in getting these basics right and have designed a plan which will help us to do this. This position was confirmed and acknowledged by Ofsted during their recent inspection of the service.”

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