Children's Commissioner says creating Northamptonshire children's trust will be 'messy and complicated'
Andrew Christie was honest with councillors this week about the challenges ahead as the trust sets up at the same time the county's local government is being shaken up.
Creating Northamptonshire’s children’s trust will be ‘messy and complicated’ according to the government -appointed commissioner sent in to make improvements.
In a frank discussion with Northamptonshire County Council’s overview and scrutiny committee on Wednesday (Feb 26) Andrew Christie laid bare the risks of moving the inadequate children’s service into a new trust at the same time as shutting down the county council and creating two new unitary authorities.
He told the councillors: “It’s messy, it’s complicated, but it is where we are in Northamptonshire.”
The new children’s trust will be the first one in the country set up in circumstances where a council is being closed down. A number of councillors have spoken of their worries about its creation, fearing it will be remote from the authority.
Mr Christie said the biggest risk was the unitary reorganisation. Elections will be held in May to the new shadow authorities and they will then run alongside the existing councils until they are closed down in April 2021.
The commissioner said the county council needs to make sure that: “Whatever we set up in the first place with NCC can be transferred into the new unitary councils in a way that provides continuity for the trust at a very early stage of its existence – at a crucial part of its improvement journey.
“This is a particular risk in Northamptonshire. One to guard against, mitigate and consider.”
The trust is being set up on Government orders after Ofsted judged Northamptonshire children’s services as inadequate. The service has had a series of directors over recent years and is currently operating with a large number of agency staff as it has been unable to recruit permanent social workers due to its reputation.
It is also running over budget and unable to make more than £7m of planned savings this year. It has also failed many children over the past few years, with the serious case reviews into the death of a two-year-old Northampton boy, a Kettering baby and the severe neglect of a Northampton child all highlighting faults in the service.The plan is for the trust to be up and running in July where it will then take over from NCC children’s services. But there are still negotiations to be had about what services the trust will run. At the meeting the commissioner said he would be keen for the youth offending service to be part of the new trust, but when questioned by Cllr Victoria Perry about what would happen with the education services, the commissioner said that had not as yet been decided and would need to be a priority of the shadow councils when they are elected this May.
Cllr Michael Clarke, who was a cabinet member during the failure years, which led to the Government deciding NCC had to end, said it was crucial to get the trust right.
He said: “We have let the looked-after children in this county down. The reasons are many.
“We have spent millions of pounds over the years and the results have not been commensurate with the results got out. We have a huge amount of damage to repair.”
The commissioner said lessons had been learned from other trusts that had not been successful. He said it was crucial for the new trust to get the confidence of the new councils and to get the right leadership and governance in place. He confirmed the unitaries would have ‘step in’ rights if it thought the trust was underperforming.
The new trust will be chaired by Ian Curryer who is leaving his current job as chief executive at Nottingham City council to take on the role. There will also be a chief executive, whose appointment is due to be announced soon.