Doncaster fears delay in children's trust timeframe

By Neil Puffett

| 03 December 2013

Plans to create an independent trust to run child protection services in Doncaster are at risk of delay, the authority has warned.

A consultation with staff who will transfer to the trust is due to begin on 2 January

Under government plans to improve services at Doncaster, child protection services will be transferred from the council to an independent trust for a period of up to 10 years, with a review after five years.

The transfer is being overseen jointly by Doncaster Council and a government-appointed commissioner - the current director of children's services at Hackney, Alan Wood.

But a progress report by Doncaster Council has raised concerns about some of the deadlines involved.

A "memorandum of understanding" that has been agreed between the authority and the Department for Education, states that the authority and the commissioner must decide together by 20 December which functions and members of council staff will transfer to the trust.

A consultation with the affected staff is then due to begin on 2 January.

But a progress report by Doncaster Council says the timescales will be hard to achieve without leadership being finalised and additional resources provided - in July, the DfE pledged £250,000 to fund the development of the new arrangements.

It states: "This will be an extremely challenging timetable and will be dependent on the DfE making the required progress on the appointment of the chair of the trust, meeting key milestones and putting in place the additional capacity the council will need to manage the transfer."

Under the timetable set out in the memorandum of understanding, the trust will go on to be created "in shadow form" by 1 April 2014, and be fully operational by 1 September 2014 or "as soon as reasonably possibly thereafter".

Any delay to the timetable could cause significant issues for the transfer process. The commissioner Alan Wood is due to take over as president of the Association of Directors of Children's Services (ADCS) - the national leadership association in England for statutory directors of children's services - on 1 April next year.

A potential conflict of interest could arise if Wood - who has also been commissioned to conduct a review on the future of Birmingham's children's services department - is still employed by the Education Secretary as commissioner in Doncaster while at the same time heading the ADCS.

Doncaster Council is not alone in having concerns about the timetable.

In September, Martin Cresswell, chief executive of consultancy firm Impower, which was brought in by Doncaster in June to help improve its children's services, told CYP Now that the timetable to create a trust by April 2014 was "far too tight".

He added that the transfer process risks creating "underlying uncertainty" among staff.

The Department for Education and Doncaster Council have been contacted for comment.

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