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Secret council plan to let independent trust run Birmingham children’s social care is shelved

Secret council plan to let independent trust run Birmingham children’s social care is shelved

🕔02.Dec 2013

A high-risk strategy that would have seen Birmingham city council voluntarily hand control of its children’s social services department to an independent trust has been shelved.

Council leader Sir Albert Bore devised the plan in October in an attempt to seize the political initiative from the Education Secretary Michael Gove, who was thought to have been considering stripping the local authority of its powers to run the failing department.

Sir Albert briefed private meetings of Labour councillors that it would be better for a trust to be established that would be answerable to the city council rather than the Department for Education.

However, Sir Albert told the Labour group this weekend that he was no longer considering the independent trust option since he hoped to persuade Children’s Minister Ed Timpson that the council has a recovery plan in place capable of turning around children’s care.

He urged colleagues not to panic over the imminent arrival in Birmingham of the troubleshooting team that advised the Government to remove Doncaster children’s social services from council control.

Sir Albert insisted he was confident of persuading three experts appointed by Mr Timpson that improvements to services for vulnerable youngsters are in place and that progress is being made.

One Labour councillor who was at the meeting said: “It was a very bullish performance by Albert. He thinks he can persuade this triumvirate that all is well and convince the Minister to allow the council to continue to run children’s social care.

“The point was also made that the Government hasn’t found it as easy as expected to establish an independent trust in Doncaster and that ministers might be going off the idea.”

Mr Timpson announced last week that he had cancelled an Ofsted inspection of Birmingham children’s social services. He has asked instead for a report from the three experts advising him whether the council’s improvement plans are sufficient and “what alternatives might be appropriate”.

The report will include analysis on the “viability” of plans by Peter Hay, who was appointed as director of children’s services this summer, to turn the service around and the “structures most likely to support sustained improvement”. The report could also recommend “alternative options”, thought to include establishing an independent trust.

Two of the three experts – Professor Julian le Grand and Alan Wood, director of children’s services at Hackney – produced a report for Education Secretary Michael Gove criticising a “culture of failure” at Doncaster children’s services. Mr Gove subsequently agreed to hand responsibility for the service to an independent trust.

Professor Le Grand and Mr Wood will be joined in Birmingham by Isabelle Trowler, the chief social worker, Mr Timpson confirmed.

Birmingham children’s social services have been under “special measures” and working to Government-approved improvement plans for more than four years, but the department is still ranked as inadequate. Earlier this year Ofsted’s chief inspector branded Birmingham one of the worst places in the developed world for children to grow up in.

The Minister’s decision to cancel the Ofsted inspection appears to have been driven by a “hands up” strategy adopted by Mr Hay, who since being appointed strategic director has stated publicly that Birmingham children’s services continue to be inadequate.

Mr Timpson may have taken the view that an Ofsted inspection would be pointless since it would merely reconfirm what is already known – that children’s services have not improved sufficiently.

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