Union seeks assurances over staff terms at children's services trust

By Dan Parton

| 22 May 2019

A union branch is asking for assurances that staff will be returned to national pay and conditions when a children's trust takes over the running of children's social services in Northamptonshire.

Malcolm Newsam was appointed by the DfE to oversee improvements at Northamptonshire children's services

Last week, the Department for Education announced that children's services in Northamptonshire would be turned over to an independent not-for-profit children's trust.

The move was recommended by Malcom Newsam, the commissioner appointed by the DfE last November to oversee improvements in children's services at Northamptonshire County Council, amid a financial crisis.

While Newsam admitted that implementing the trust "would not be without its difficulties", he said it was the most secure option.

This trust creation is part of a wider set of proposals to reorganise services, currently delivered via a two-tier system of county, borough and district councils.

Eight existing councils are to be abolished and replaced by two new councils, North Northamptonshire and West Northamptonshire - to be operational by April 2021.

G Alvarez-Wilkinson, assistant secretary at the Northamptonshire county's Unison branch, said that children's social workers have not been on national pay and terms since 2013, when an employment costs project was agreed to save £4m per year.

It was part of wider cost cutting, blamed on the size of the national debt, he added, but which meant that pay did not rise annually.

The secretary said that representatives will be looking to clarify pay and terms in the near future, during meetings about the direction of services.

"This made the department uncompetitive in the labour market and is an issue we look for the children's trust to rectify," said Alvarez-Wilkinson.

"We want national terms restored and for staff to be looked after."

Alvarez-Wilkinson added that neither staff nor the unions know what the arrangements would be for staff when the children's trust is established - this will be discussed in future meetings. 

In his report, Newsam said he couldn't recommend the alternative option of disaggregating children's services to two new unitary councils as it "would present considerable risk to already fragile services to vulnerable children and families".

Newsam has previously been drafted in as commissioner to help improve children's services in Doncaster and Sandwell. 

The council has been beset by problems in recent years, including pressure to make £70m worth of savings. It was also subject to a Section 114 notice, banning it from any new spending outside of children's and adult social care.

In 2013, its children's services department was judged "inadequate" by Ofsted in 2013, and upgraded to "requires improvement" in 2016.

The department was also found to have "substantially declined" in October last year, when Ofsted returned for a focused inspection.

The main concerns included significant shortfalls in social work capacity across the service, unmanageable caseloads and high volumes of unallocated and unassessed cases.

Alternative delivery models such as children's trusts have been implemented elsewhere in the country in recent years, such as in Doncaster, Slough and Birmingham, where services have since improved.

Children's minister Nadhim Zahawi, welcomed the move to a children's trust: "By creating a children's trust to deliver children's social care across the two new counties, we will be able to provide the continuity and stability that families deserve."

County council leader Matt Golby also backed the changes, describing them as a "once in a generation opportunity to recast local government in Northamptonshire to offer residents and communities better, more efficient services and more transparent and accountable governance".

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