'Inadequate' council considers setting up children's services company

By Tristan Donovan

| 07 December 2017

Worcestershire County Council will consider establishing a separate company to run children's services in a bid to improve provision.

Children's services in Worcestershire were rated inadequate in January. Picture: Worcestershire County Council

A report by the council, which has been ordered by the Department for Education to come up an alternative delivery model for children's services, reveals it will also consider partnering with another local authority to drive improvement.

The two options are set to be considered in more depth prior to a final decision on future delivery being taken in March 2018.

Children's services in Worcestershire were rated as "inadequate" in January due to "widespread and serious" failures in its support of vulnerable children, including those in care.

A report in September by Cornwall Council's director of children's services Trevor Doughty, who the government appointed as Worcestershire's commissioner for children's services, found "insufficient evidence" that services could be improved under the council's existing delivery model.

After a review of 16 possible models Worcestershire's lead member for children's services, Andy Roberts, created a shortlist of two options.

The first option is to move services and staff into a company that is wholly-owned by Worcestershire Council. The company would then be commissioned by the council to deliver its services.

While the company may face VAT and corporation tax costs that the council does not, Roberts' report said the move would mean the service has more freedom to innovate and improve.

It is estimated that this approach would cost between £2m to £7.5m to implement, although the council expects that the DfE will fund all or part of the cost.

The alternative option is for Worcestershire to form a strategic partnership with a "good" or "outstanding" rated local authority, similar to the one established by Kirklees Council with Leeds City Council.

Under this model the two authorities would share a director of children's services, the partner authority would take on operational responsibility for services in Worcestershire and staff would become employees of the partner council.

In his report to Worcestershire's cabinet on the proposals, councillor Roberts said this approach would allow the service to benefit from the expertise at the partner authority.

If the options are approved by Worcestershire's cabinet at a meeting on 14 December, business plans for each option will be developed before the council decides which one to adopt on 29 March 2018. The council then hopes to have the new model up and running by 1 April 2019.

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