Northamptonshire's Children's Commissioner resigns

Malcolm Newsam was appointed by government last November to stabilise and improve Northamptonshire's Children's Services.
Malcolm Newsam was appointed by government last November to stabilise and improve Northamptonshire's Children's Services.

There is further turmoil within Northamptonshire children’s services as the government-appointed children’s commissioner has resigned.

The Department for Education has confirmed today (Sept 25) that Malcolm Newsam has said he will be leaving the role and will be replaced by another commissioner.

The resignation news comes after the experienced commissioner was criticised last week at full council for being ‘absent’ and not attending many public meetings.
A motion had been put forward by Labour shadow portfolio holder for children’s services Cllr Jane Birch requiring the children’s commissioner to give answers about his plans for more early intervention and transition services.

Mr Newsam was appointed by the government last November after a terrible Ofsted inspection. His brief was to stabilise and improve the service.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Nothing is more important than keeping children safe. Last year we took swift action to put in place a commissioner and a package of support to address serious failings in Northamptonshire’s children’s social services.

“We are making good progress with the creation of a new children’s services trust and are grateful to Malcolm Newsam for his role in transforming these services. We will be appointing a new commissioner, before Malcolm leaves, to finish this crucial work.”

It is understood Mr Newsam has given verbal indication of his desire to leave the role but the department has not as yet received it in writing. The reasons for his leaving are unknown.

After joining the department Mr Newsam undertook a review of all departments and gave feedback which was made public in May. The report said there was a culture of complacency and a lack of accountability for poor performance. It said there was some way to go before the very basics of professional social work standards are in place in the county.

He recommended that children’s services be handed over to an independent children’s trust.

Labour’s Danielle Stone is not in favour of the children’s trust and is critical of Mr Newsam.

She said: “He didn’t do much groundwork. He has given us an off the peg solution, whereas we needed more work. After the children’s trust was suggested we asked for evidence as we feel really strongly that evidence is needed for these kind of decisions.”

Before Mr Newsam joined Northamptonshire County Council he had a strong track record and was part of the team that improved Rotherham children’s services in the wake of the child sexual exploitation scandal. He was awarded a CBE in 2017 for services to children’s social care.

This is the latest crisis for Northamptonshire’s children’s services. The department hit national headlines in the summer when two serious case reviews into the deaths of two young children who were killed by their violent father figures were published. The reports said the service missed chances to intervene. There are a further two serious case reviews to be made public.

This year the financially strapped county council, which runs the department, had to make £10m of savings in the department. This is looking unlikely with predictions that the department will spend above its budget. The department is heavily reliant on agency staff and is facing high costs of out-of-county private residential care for some looked-after children.

Northamptonshire County Council cabinet member for children’s services Cllr Fiona Baker said: “We would like to thank Malcolm for all his work since his arrival as commissioner for our children’s services.

“Malcolm has put in place a good transformation plan to improve our services to children that has been approved by Ofsted and we will be working hard to make sure these improvements continue to happen.

“We look forward to hearing from the government of the future arrangements as we move our services towards trust status and focus on improving standards. We have every confidence in our plans and work to see a step change in our performance.

“We have recently appointed new employees to the senior leadership of the department to move away from contract staff and have every confidence this will lead to increased stability within the services. This has increased capacity to deliver our improvement plan and prepare for the new trust.

“We are already planning with partners a recruitment process for permanent positions in the new trust.”