Council heads shun private sector role in boosting standards

Local government leaders have warned against the widespread use of private companies to turn round failing children’s services departments, despite the success of the model in Stoke-on-Trent.

Nine councils are facing or undergoing intervention by Department for Children, Schools and Families officials after being judged inadequate overall or in child safeguarding by Ofsted. The DCSF could bring in a private sector organisation to take over management functions in any of these authorities, as happened with Serco after Stoke Council was judged to be inadequate in children’s services in 2006.

Last week, a joint area review credited Serco with “accelerating” improvements in Stoke, saying the council now provided adequate services and had good capacity to improve.

However, the Improvement and Development Agency and Local Government Association backed a “sector-led” approach to improvement, to ensure lessons are learned across local government.

Long-term goals

Andrew Cozens (right), the IDeA’s strategic adviser for children, adults and health, said: “Just employing private sector agencies is not a sustainable model for improving the children’s social care sector, for example for long-term goals such as workforce development,” he said.

Examples of sector-led support include the IDeA’s peer reviews, which help councils challenge and learn from each other, and the C4EO, which provides sector specialists to children’s services departments in need of support.

Sector-led approach

Caroline Abrahams, the LGA’s programme director for children, said there was a role for external providers, but said the association expected this to diminish in favour of a sector-led approach, which was “more likely to lead to sustained improvements”.

However, Maggie Atkinson (right), president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, said the priority for councils should be improving outcomes for children. This could be achieved by strengthening partnerships with agencies, which “is not dependent on all partners being in the public or private sector”.

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External information

Improvement and Development Agency

Local Government Association

Association of Directors of Children’s Services

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