“Children's services consultancy Morning Lane closes”

By Joanne Parkes

| 06 June 2019

A company that received millions of pounds in Department for Education funding and was at the centre of a controversy over links with the chief children's social worker has been wound up.

Morning Lane Associates, which banked at least £2.9m through contracts to deliver children's social care reforms, was dissolved today (6 June), after going into voluntary liquidation last year.

The company was co-owned by chief children's social worker Isabelle Trowler prior to her taking up the role in 2013.

Her connections to the firm prompted a 2016 National Audit Office investigation over a potential conflict of interest.

This found that Trowler had a "close and personal" relationship with the company's sole remaining director, Steve Goodman - a former deputy director of children's services at Hackney Council - but that she did not take decisions relating to the award of contracts.

Final accounts filed with Companies House in March this year show the company had assets of just under £2.2m - with Goodman the sole shareholder.

This included an £887,000 director's loan, £1.2m cash in the bank, and £44,000 of trade debtors.

Goodman announced on professional networking website Linked In that Morning Lane was closing.

His profile states that he was the company's director between April 2010 and November 2018 and that he is now working in the local heritage sector, as a director of Cultural Histories Community Interest Company, as well as being available for "pro bono social work".

Goodman states: "Morning Lane has been wound up after eight successful years promoting the Reclaim model.

"It lives on in many projects that have sprung from its ideas, expertly and enthusiastically run by ex-Morning Lane Associates."

Morning Lane played a key role in DfE reforms of the children's social work profession.

It developed the Reclaiming Social Work model of practice, known as the "Hackney model", that has been implemented at a number of other local authorities.

In 2015, the company was awarded grant funding through the first round of the DfE's Children's Social Care Innovation Programme to implement and test the Hackney model in five local authorities.

Exactly how much public money was paid to Morning Lane under the £4.4m contract is unclear, as it was part of a consortium led by international consultancy KPMG.

A DfE-commissioned evaluation found improvements under the model, but there have been concerns raised elsewhere about its effectiveness and sustainability.

In addition, Morning Lane was involved in developing a new national assessment and accreditation system (NAAS) for children's social workers, which has yet to be fully rolled out.

So far, the DfE has spent £11.2m on developing the NAAS, attracting criticism about the scale of spending at a time of public sector austerity.

In 2017, a total of £8.5m was confirmed to have been paid to private companies including Morning Lane, with a further £2.7m going to local authorities for phase one and two of the rollout of the NAAS.

Commenting on the winding up of Morning Lane, the DfE said: "Morning Lane Associates was awarded funding, through a fair and robust process, in the first round of the department's Children's Social Care Innovation Programme, and for its contribution to early work on the assessment and accreditation system.

"Morning Lane Associates was only paid for completed work and funding ended in 2016.
"Morning Lane Associates went into voluntary liquidation in June 2018."