Leeds drafted in to support 'inadequate' council

By Neil Puffett

| 02 June 2017

A council where children's services were rated 'inadequate' by Ofsted last year has begun receiving expert support from Leeds City Council, amid speculation that the local authority may be set to take over running the department.

Eleanor Brazil has filed a report to children's minister Edward Timpson giving her recommendations for the future of children's services in Kirklees.

Children's services at Kirklees Council were rated "inadequate" after an Ofsted inspection that took place between 12 September and 6 October identified concerns in more than a third of children's cases looked at, including unrecognised neglect and abuse.

Eleanor Brazil, who was last year appointed to advise government on whether alternative delivery arrangements, such as an independent trust, would be necessary, has reported her findings to children's minister Edward Timpson, but a final decision has been delayed as a result of the general election.

It has been reported that Unison officials at the council have called off a planned strike because it is understood that Brazil's report will recommend Leeds City Council taking over the management of children's services - something Unison says Leeds is not prepared to do while industrial action is ongoing.

Gill Ellis, director for children and young people, writing in a newsletter to staff, said Timpson's options include Kirklees entering trust status, through to the creation of a formal partnership with another council, or leaving children's services as they are.

"In the meantime, as we know we need support to improve, we are developing an even stronger relationship with Leeds City Council," she said.

"Leeds have been on an improvement journey of their own and have emerged in a much stronger position.

"In their 2015 Ofsted inspection they were rated as ‘good' overall with ‘outstanding' leadership, management and governance.

"They are also an approved ‘partner in practice', so it makes absolute sense for us to tap into this excellent source of support right on our doorstep.

Ellis said it had originally been planned that Timpson would consider Brazil's findings and make a decision "fairly quickly", but the process had been delayed due to the snap election.

"The minister will not be considering Eleanor's report until after the election and we don't currently know how long the delay will be," she said.

"At the moment there is no clear timeline for when the minister will make any decisions. This is a little frustrating as we would all like more certainty about the future, but the hold-up is beyond our control and, of course, it doesn't stop us continuing with our improvement work."

Meanwhile, a report that went to politicians in Kirklees this week has revealed that the council overspent on children's services by more than £12m in 2016/17.

In the wake of the findings of the Ofsted inspection, additional in-year investment of £6.7m was pumped into children's services.

Meanwhile the council had to spend £6m more than anticipated on costs for looked-after children due to "volume pressures" - making a total overspend for 2016/17 of £12.7m.

"There was significant investment during the year totalling £6m on measures to support a number of key service improvements in children's services," the report states.

"These include additional capacity to support interim management arrangements and additional volumes of work."

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