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Birmingham council’s failing children’s social care to be placed in a trust

Birmingham council’s failing children’s social care to be placed in a trust

🕔24.May 2016

Birmingham city council’s troubled children’s social services are to be taken over by a voluntary trust following intervention by Downing Street.

Although the impetus for the move will be portrayed as coming from the Labour-led council, pressure to set up the trust has been applied directly by the Prime Minister, Chamberlain Files can reveal.

Children’s social care, which has been failing and in special measures for over eight years, will be placed in the hands of a trust headed by an independent chief executive.

Discussions between the council, Downing Street and the Department for Education are at a very early stage and the precise make-up of the trust is yet to be decided. It is unclear whether the council will be able to maintain control of the new body.

While there have been signs of some improvement and millions of pounds have been poured into children’s services by the council recently, the department is still classified as failing and a new Ofsted inspection is nervously awaited.

Council leaders are bracing themselves for a Channel 4 Dispatches programme later this week which is believed to show Birmingham children’s social care in a very poor light.

While in special measures the service has been overseen by Government-appointed commissioners although overall control has always remained with the council.

Former Labour Minister Lord Warner was appointed commissioner in 2014. He was replaced last December by Andrew Christie from Westminster Council who was charged with conducting a three-year review into Birmingham children’s social care.

The department never recovered from the reputational damage inflicted upon it in 2013 when Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw branded Birmingham “a national disgrace” and the worst place in the developed world for children to grow up in.

Birmingham council leader John Clancy is said to be “relaxed” about the trust plan and has told colleagues it is a logical step to bring in fresh ideas and expertise.

During his first week in the job Cllr Clancy visited Newport council in South Wales to look at a children’s social care trust run in association with Barnardo’s and said he was open to new ways of running the service in Birmingham.

He has told friends the trust route is an inevitable step to securing long term improvement.

Ironically for Cllr Clancy, a trust scheme was proposed two years ago by former leader Sir Albert Bore, but rejected by Labour councillors.

The Prime Minister’s interest in the trust appears to stem from a speech he gave in December last year in which he stated that failing social services would have to be taken out of council hands. Birmingham, the largest social care department in the country, will be a test of Mr Cameron’s resolve.

In a statement, Birmingham council insisted it was the moving force behind the trust initiative.

A spokeswoman said the council had been discussing the idea with the Department for Education “for some time” and the trust was “the nxt logical step on our improvement journey”.

There was no hint of the council losing control of social services when Chamberlain Files interviewed the cabinet member for children’s services Brigid Jones recently.

Cllr Jones said she thought Birmingham was too big to be taken over and painted a picture of rapidly improving children’s social care in Birmingham, adding that other local authorities were “beginning to sit up and take notice” of what is happening here.

Opposition Conservatives on Birmingham council accused Labour of being less than truthful over the plight of social services.

Cllr Matt Bennett, shadow cabinet member for children’s services, said:

It is disappointing that the efforts made to improve safeguarding have not been sufficient, but it does not come as a surprise to me.

The culture within Birmingham children’s services is so deeply damaged that I simply don’t think it was ever possible to change it ‎ from within the council – many have tried and failed over the last few years.

However, this latest development is rather at odds with the report received at full council last year put gave a rather more positive spin on the improvement journey. We called for greater transparency at same meeting so that we could have greater assurance that things were going as well as we were told they were, but our motion was voted down by Labour.

At the budget meeting in March we tabled an amendment which, among other things, proposed exactly this model of delivering children’s services. However, it was voted ‎down by Labour and denounced as privatisation by the leader and cabinet member.

Whatever model we have and whoever is responsible for delivering it there will still be a huge amount of work to do to turn things around. We must have greater openness and transparency going forward, so that performance can be properly scrutinised and challenged, and we must put ideology about public vs private to one side. If it makes our children safer I don’t really care who employs the social workers.

I hope that by moving children’s social care away from the broken culture of Birmingham city council we can at last begin to make our children and young people safer.

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