Campaigner raises concerns over Northamptonshire outsourcing plans

By Joe Lepper

| 23 February 2015

Northamptonshire County Council plans to outsource all of its children's services, including child protection, to a staff-run mutual have been criticised by Children England.

Kathy Evans says children and parents should have a chance to veto the plans to outsource children's services in Northamptonshire. Image: Lucie Carlier

The council says the proposed children’s services mutual will be owned by and run for the benefit of staff and service users, and focus on “ensuring every child has the opportunity to reach their full potential”.

It will also host the council’s director of children’s services post “and would therefore hold accountability for delivery of safeguarding, prevention and education outcomes”, according to documents approved by councillors.

But the move – part of sweeping changes approved by the council last week to save money by outsourcing all services – has been criticised by Kathy Evans, chief executive of Children England.

“We remain worried by the prospect of placing children’s services at arm’s length from councils," she said.

“There is no evidence to support claims that outsourcing saves money or automatically delivers better outcomes.”

Evans urged the council to ensure that local children and families are given the chance to shape the new service or veto the plans.

The proposed mutual will take over a plan to improve child protection services, which were rated “inadequate” by Ofsted in 2013, as well as look to gain additional funding through community interest bonds and selling services to other council areas.
 
A council spokeswoman said further details were still being developed by the council and stressed that Ofsted’s rating of the council was not a factor in the move to outsource children’s services.
 
Council leader Jim Harker added: “The traditional model of local government not only no longer works financially, but also doesn’t meet the needs of citizens any more.
 
“Our model will not only help rise to these expectations, but do so in a way which is affordable.”
 
Councils are able to outsource child protection services to not-for-profit organisations after a change in the law by the government last year.
 
But plans to allow private firms to take over child protection services were shelved following opposition from the children’s sector.

Northamptonshire's envisaged model is similar to Achieving for Children, the social enterprise launched last year to take over the running of children's services in Richmond and Kingston councils.

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