Troubled council to launch children's services trust in 2019

By Joe Lepper

| 25 April 2018

A struggling council that a government report recommended be scrapped and replaced with two new unitary authorities is pushing ahead with plans to establish children's services to an independent trust in 12 months' time.

Northamptonshire's children's services were rated "inadequate" by Ofsted in 2013, with the rating being upgraded to "requires improvement" in April 2016. Picture: Northamptonshire County Council

Northamptonshire County Council first announced plans to establish an independent trust in late 2015, with a planned launch date of September 2016. However, the project has been subject to delays and is yet to launch.

In the meantime the council's financial situation has deteriorated, resulting in the council being issued a "section 114 notice" in February, banning any new spending with the exception of safeguarding vulnerable children and adults. Then last month a government report recommended that Northamptonshire County Council be scrapped and replaced with two unitary authorities.

However, a council report reveals that the local authority intends to push ahead with plans to establish an independent trust, called Children First Northamptonshire, which is earmarked to launch in April 2019.

The council's cabinet has approved the creation of a "shadow" version of the organisation, which is being trialled for six months from this month to test out the new arrangements and consider issues such as "entrepreneurism and commercialism". A review of this trial will take place from October this year.

Ahead of the planned launch the council has already rebranded its children's services under the new name.

"Remaining with the old directorate name was considered, however it was felt that launching with a new brand would reinforce, emphasise and support the transformation journey that the directorate is undergoing," states the cabinet report.

The council has received £4m from the Department for Education's social care innovation programme to help launch the trust.

A council spokesman said: "Essentially the cabinet papers gave approval for Children First to move forward in ‘shadow form' for a sixth-month period to see how it works - so that's the direction we're travelling in at the moment. There will then be a [further] cabinet paper at a later date to evaluate this.

"Obviously in the background, we've got the government's desire for a complete reorganisation of local government in the county."

Northamptonshire's children's services were rated "inadequate" by Ofsted in 2013, with the rating being upgraded to "requires improvement" in April 2016.

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