Doncaster takeover ‘could damage children's services'

By Gabriella Jozwiak

| 05 August 2013

The government's plans to take Doncaster's children's social care out of council control could harm service improvement, experts have suggested.

Doncaster Council has until 13 August to respond to the government's proposals.

Concerns that improvements at the troubled authority’s children’s services will stall if it is brought under an independent trust are expressed by former directors of children's services and senior local government figures in the forthcoming issue of CYP Now.

Education Secretary Michael Gove told the council in July he planned to place control of the services under an independent trust for ten years to enable “radical change” at the authority.

But freelance interim director of children’s services Peter Lewis said the loss of local accountability Doncaster would experience through the move could do more harm than good.

“If lines of accountability for frontline staff – for supervision, case-management, good practice development and organisational leadership – are anything less than absolutely clear, this change will make no difference at all,” said Lewis.

“Arguably, it could make things worse by destabilising the workforce.”

Lewis said democratic accountability was also a concern if the Secretary of State became responsible for Doncaster children’s services.

“Democratic accountability is more likely to commend respect and loyalty in the workforce than a resource parachuted in from afar,” he said.  

Lewis’s concerns were backed by Graeme McDonald, director of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives.

“I don’t think it’s good for the children in the area. And on a political level I just don’t think that kind of centralisation and level of responsibility for a secretary of state is really manageable,” he said.

“They haven’t got the skills in the DfE to do it and I don’t think a single elected politician at a national level would want that level of responsibility.”

Kingston University professor of social work Ray Jones warned against the government using a similar approach at other struggling authorities.

“There would be a real concern if the government saw this as an option to be used frequently,” he said.

“We do expect safeguarding to be delivered locally. It requires good working across partners and a local accountability in failing services so that people are brought together across their governance structures as well as their management structures.

“For a number of reasons I think it’s understandable why the government have chosen to do it with Doncaster, but I don’t think at all it’s an option which should be taken out of the tool box too often.”

Doncaster council has until 13 August to respond to the government’s proposals.

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