Children’s services at Northamptonshire County Council could be run by a new not-for-profit organisation within a year as part of multi-million pound cost saving plans announced today.
The Conservative led authority has proposed to set up a trust to deliver children’s services by September 2016, in a bid to save it £9 million in 2016/17 alone.
The move is part of the council’s transition to a “next generation model,” where its services will be entirely delivered by four standalone mutual companies by 2020.
The council says the proposal, part of its draft budget announced today, will “create a more stable workforce in children’s services” and reduce reliance on agency staff, which currently costs it £22 million a year.
Cabinet member for children’s services, Councillor Heather Smith (Con, Oundle), said the new trust will be able to keep staff by offering better terms and conditions than currently offered by the council.
She said: “One of the key benefits of a trust model is the flexibility it can give in relation to the workforce.
“We will be able to significantly improve the terms and conditions for our permanent staff in order to reduce our dependence on costly agency workers.
“As a result the trust model will also be more affordable and deliver a more stable workforce.
“This is an exciting development in our children’s services improvement journey and will help us to manage the increased demand for services while improving outcomes for all children and young people in Northamptonshire.”
However several people had concerns that plans to effectively outsource children’s services would be a step toward privatisation when they were announced last year.
Labour councillor Danielle Stone (Lab, Abington and Phippsville) feared a mutual company could introduce charges for certain services and she had serious concerns over how the council would monitor the performance of such a company.
“I’m full of horror to think that the council would be making money out of vulnerable children,” she told the Chron last December.
Following this morning’s draft budget announcements, Councillor Adam Collyer (UKIP, Daventry West) has also questioned whether the move to set up a children’s trust would save the projected £9 million.
The council is also still awaiting its first Ofsted inspection since a Government watchdog rated the council’s children’s services inadequate back in 2013.
Its children’s services are still in special measures and will only be able to move to the new trust model if Ofsted takes it out of special measures.
Councillor Collyer said: “In general we can see why they (The Conservative group) are doing what they are doing, it will give the option to improve their terms and conditions and replace agency workers.
“But then to say it will give a £9 million saving this coming year for doing that is disingenuous.
“We think this would only make those sorts of savings over two or three years.”