Northamptonshire Children's Trust plans move forward

The plans to take the running of Northamptonshire children’s services out from county council control and into an independent trust are moving forward.

The children's trust is being created on Government orders after Northamptonshire County Council has failed to run the service adequately.
The children's trust is being created on Government orders after Northamptonshire County Council has failed to run the service adequately.

The Conservative-run cabinet will note the memorandum of understanding tomorrow that has been negotiated between officers and government officials and sets out how the new trust will operate.

The trust is being set up on government say-so after a series of failings in the department and has not been debated by councillors, many of whom have voiced concerns about the new trust – especially against a backdrop of local government reorganisation in the county.

Two new unitary councils for the north and west of the council are due to be up and running from spring 2021. The new children’s trust should be in place by July next year.

A report to be considered by the cabinet says: “The (Government) Direction specifies that children’s social care functions of the Council are to be delivered by the Trust. Therefore the services that are in scope to be transferred are included in the Memorandum of Understanding account for 84% of the Children First Northamptonshire 2020/21 draft gross expenditure budget (excluding schools).

“This leaves mainly the provision of Learning, Skills and Education to be retained under Council control. The decision on the transfer of services for Children with Disabilities has not been confirmed yet due to the all age disability review that has been undertaken; it is anticipated that a decision on this will be made by the end of December following the findings of this review. It is recognised that there are statutory safeguarding requirements for this service that will need to be considered.”

The current children’s services budget is £116m which means the new children’s trust will have responsibility for a spend in the region of £97m – a sizeable chunk of the council’s annual budget.

The council is currently negotiating with the Department for Education (DfE) about additional funds to help with the transition to the new trust.

The council is using London-based consultancy Mutual Ventures to help set up the new body. The consultancy was appointed by the DfE and its managing director Andrew Laird was once parliamentary advisor to Conservative MP and former chancellor Philip Hammond.

Adverts for a chair of the board and non-executive directors have also gone out.

The department, which is ranked as inadequate by Ofsted, currently has a number of problems, including an over reliance on agency staff as the council is finding it hard to recruit staff either locally or from abroad. There are also a high number of children in need who do not have an allocated social worker. Earlier this summer details of two child murders were released which said the authority could have done more to safeguard them.

Cllr Fiona Baker, Northamptonshire County Council Cabinet member for children, families and education, said: “Children’s services is on an improvement journey and a Children’s Trust is being set up in Northamptonshire to ensure that this continues to happen.

“We are clear that all children in Northamptonshire, no matter what their background, deserve to be safe and have the best chances in life to achieve their full potential. The Trust will play the fundamental role in ensuring this happens.

“Establishing a Memorandum of Understanding is a real step forward and shows that we’re making real progress.”

The proposed legal form for the Trust is a company limited by guarantee which will have operational independence from the council – though it will be performance managed by the council under a contract.

While the Trust will have a Board, the statutory role of Director of Children’s Services will still sit within the local authority. The Board will also include up to two non-executive directors nominated by the council.