More services could be commissioned regionally


Who wants to talk about public sector restructuring? What, nobody?

Last time it happened - the health sector reforms that created clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) - it cost several billion pounds, caused chaos for years, and left almost all the same managers in post, but with different job titles. But it is happening again now, in a town near you.

The main driver, of course, is the relentless march of austerity. All the easy reductions were made years ago - the expansions under the golden age of Every Child Matters, the children's centres, the full service schools, the youth services. Middle manager posts have been cut in all agencies, as have most of the jobs focused on joined-up working and workforce development. The next round of savings either comes from cutting the front line even deeper, or from rationalising management structures. It is hard to argue against having a robust look at whether any structures are surplus to requirements.

There won't be much gnashing of teeth if some CCGs merge, as is starting to happen. Wherever there has been a devolution settlement, there has been some sharing of "backroom services" across councils - human resources, finance, planning. Some important direct services for vulnerable children are now better commissioned regionally - adoption, fostering, residential care, special school placements and more.

We probably don't need 42 police forces with 42 police commissioners across England - while Scotland's move to one national force has been controversial, there is doubtless a compromise that would save money and improve outcomes. But can we be more radical? Do we really need separate children's social care services in 152 local authorities? We need separate social workers, yes, like we need local nurseries and children's centres, but the management, leadership, commissioning and quality assurance can surely be delivered more efficiently (and cheaper) in other ways.

It is one of the long-held beliefs of children's services that the needs of the families of one town must be determined by the democratically elected councillors of that town alone. I am not so sure. The medical care provided across the country is set out in national standards and delivered within a National Health Service. The theory has been that local health services can reflect local needs through the separate commissioning undertaken by local commissioning groups. But few local people feel a direct association with the CCG's processes.

Local safeguarding arrangements are changing, as a result of the Children and Social Work Act 2017, and many areas are exploring how to bring together safeguarding systems across a wider footprint. We should never have closed down some of the regional government structures after 2010; bring them back, but this time let's see if we can lose some of the local management systems instead.

Sir Paul Ennals is independent chair of three local safeguarding children boards

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