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Council tight-lipped over ‘substantial’ cost of social care trust as Government talks continue

Council tight-lipped over ‘substantial’ cost of social care trust as Government talks continue

🕔21.Sep 2016

The estimated “substantial” cost of setting up a trust to run Birmingham children’s social services will be kept under wraps while talks continue with the Department for Education about funding the new body, a senior city council officer said today.

Peter Hay, Strategic Director for People, said he wanted to “draw a veil” over the set-up costs of the proposed trust, which he accepted could not be met from within the council’s current budget.

Mr Hay told a scrutiny committee it would be unfair to comment in public while sensitive discussions were taking place with the DfE, adding that the Government fully understood the council would face considerable extra one-off expenditure to put a trust in place.

Two models are under consideration to run Birmingham children’s social care in future – a company wholly owned by the council, or an employee-owned mutual.

A trust would be responsible for the day to day running of social services with a clear remit to bring the failing department out of Government special measures. But the council would continue to hold the statutory remits of the Director of Children’s Services under the Children Act 2004 and the council would be the body inspected by Ofsted rather than the trust.

Children and families cabinet member Brigid Jones, Mr Hay, and council leader John Clancy are all backing the trust option as the only realistic chance to lift children’s social services out of almost 20 years of being regarded as failing by Government inspectors.

It is thought a trust, with management separate from the rest of the council, would be able to concentrate fully on running social care and not be distracted by other local authority functions.

Mr Hay said he was pleased that social workers and other staff had broadly welcomed the trust plan and it was important to move ahead in finding a trust chair and trustees as well as appointing a programme board.

When asked about financial implications, Mr Hay said:

Of course there are significant set up costs from the new arrangements. The appointment of the chair and how you start to pay the chair if you are going to get that person in post early, and the other trustees, and the people to help you find them, this is all additional to the current council budget.

I don’t want to go into this yet in public. We are in discussions with the DfE and they are saying they do get that this is additional to the sort of work they would expect the council to be paying for in improving its children’s services.

Mr Hay promised to be fully transparent about costs when discussions with the DfE were completed.

A report to this month’s council cabinet meeting put the case for change:

The current system, where the vast majority of children’s social care services are delivered by in-house local authority teams, is not delivering consistently excellent practice. Whilst structural change is not an end in itself, in the right circumstances it may be the key to unlocking improvement and responding to budgetary pressures as well as new threats to our children and young people.

The council has been rated as inadequate in the delivery of its responsibilities to children for some years and is now due a further Ofsted inspection. The council has come to a decision that exploration of a trust offers greater agility and focus which would improve the chances of delivering excellent social work in an effective and sustainable way.

Work commissioned by the council from consultants Deloitte identified six key issues challenging the council’s ability to deliver a sustainable and improved children’s service at pace.

According to Deloitte, the trust design needs to be able to facilitate positive responses to these root causes:

  • Time spent interacting with other council functions caused a lack of attention on children’s services.
  • A lack of shared visions across council functions and with key partners; more collaboration and single focus needed.
  • Impact of reputational and legacy issues, unattractive/uncompetitive reward package and lack of dedicated/focussed support service functions impacting on successful and sustained recruitment and retention of qualified social workers.
  • The need to align workforce capability with service delivery, the need to build a strong framework for learning which is peer led and embedded into day-to-day practice.
  • The need to become demand led versus the need to respond to budgetary cuts and the distraction of responding to external pressures.
  • The need for an exclusive IT focus, unencumbered by corporate processes and initiatives in order to provide a better understanding about the needs of children and young people.

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