Recruitment issues holding back Northamptonshire children's services improvements

Matt Golby says recruiting permanent social work staff is proving to be very difficult.
Matt Golby says recruiting permanent social work staff is proving to be very difficult.

The leader of Northamptonshire County Council has said the biggest problem holding back children’s services improvement is the authority’s inability to recruit and retain staff.

The authority lurched into a fresh crisis with the loss of its head of children’s services Sally Hodges, along with her deputy.

Portfolio holder for children's services Cllr Fiona Baker is not saying why the children's commissioner, the director of children's services and her deputy are all leaving.

Portfolio holder for children's services Cllr Fiona Baker is not saying why the children's commissioner, the director of children's services and her deputy are all leaving.

The experienced pair had been brought in earlier this year to improve the failing department which has been rated as inadequate by Ofsted and is currently unable to provide 230 Northamptonshire children who need a social worker with one.

The Government-appointed children’s commissioner Malcolm Newsam has also quit.

Speaking at the health and wellbeing board yesterday (Oct 10) Conservative leader Cllr Matt Golby, who has seen off various calls for him to resign over the children’s services problems which have been ongoing for the past year, says the biggest issue is not being able to staff its chidlren’s department with permanent employees.

He said: “The nub of the issue has been recruiting and retaining social workers. It has been incredibly difficult.

“We are working very hard on the improvement plan and have added additional staff at senior level. We have a new recruitment campaign but it remains difficult.”

The council had planned to make huge financial savings across its children’s services department by converting its high number of expensive agency staff to permanent staff members. It had also tried an international recruitment campaign and will be launching a new recrutiment drive shortly.

However, the reputation of the council, its impending closure and working conditions – staff have previously complained of hot desking at One Angel Square and not having private consultation spaces – have meant that people do not want to join the authority permanently.

The council, which is likely to overspend its budget by £4m this financial year, does not offer national pay and conditions.

As well as trying to work on an improvement plan the service is also going through a Government-directed handover to an independent trust. Cllr Golby said the anticipated go-live date for the trust would be July next year.

However, the move to the trust has been criticised by a number of opposition councillors who fear it will remove accountability and not improve services.

It has not been made public why the director of children’s services, deputy director and children’s commissioner are leaving the authority. The elected portfolio holder for children’s services Cllr Fiona Baker has so far declined to answer questions.