Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service chief executive Anthony Douglas has taken personal charge of a programme to turn around significant financial and performance problems in its London region.
Until next March, he will spend one day a week tackling massive backlogs in allocating public law cases and looking to save 1m from its budget.
Douglas said the situation was his “biggest challenge” of 2006-7.
Internal documents seen by Community Care show the huge scale of the problem. London overspent in 2005-6 by an estimated 1.8m, representing 14 per cent of its budget. The organisation’s national overspend was less than 200,000 (0.2 per cent).
The region’s performance in public law was also disappointing. Only 15.2 per cent of cases were allocated within two days in London between April 2005 and February 2006, compared with 49.5 per cent nationally and a target of 70 per cent.
Under the Every Day Matters professional strategy, published last October, Douglas is committed to eliminating delays in public law by April 2007.
Some of the causes of London’s problems are not Cafcass’s responsibility. Public law demand rose by 19.9 per cent in the capital, compared with 1.2 per cent nationally, while demand for complex rule 9.5 private law cases rose by 56.9 per cent, despite falling nationally by 3.9 per cent. Douglas also said Cafcass faced particular pressures from the judiciary in London, including delays in court listings.
But he added there were internal problems in the capital, notably high unit costs. Reducing these to the national average would save more than 2m, although Douglas admitted such a saving was unrealistic.
Douglas confirmed the London programme would include an early intervention service, with duty practitioners picking up cases and then passing them on, and new guidance for practitioners on prioritising cases.
But Alison Paddle (pictured), chair of guardians’ body Nagalro, said: “We are unhappy about the extension of duty systems precisely because you don’t get the continuity for children.”
Douglas will also bring in support from the East Midlands – seen as Cafcass’s best-performing region – with regional director Elizabeth Coe working one day a week in London and plans to introduce East Midlands practices, including productivity targets.
However, Paddle warned: “We have no evidence that practice in these other regions is of better quality. We just know it’s cheaper.”