Council brings in private sector to lead children’s services

Consultancy given £1.15m contract to improve department, including by bringing in interim director of children's services.

Credit: Tore Bjerkholt/Rex Features

Sandwell Council has today agreed to contract out the leadership of its children’s services department to a private company.

Local government consultancy iMPOWER has been named as the preferred bidder for a £1.15m, 30-month contract which will see the company working alongside current senior managers and social workers to improve services.

Its bid, in partnership with human resources company Penna, includes the provision of an interim director of children’s services, Simon White, who is currently director of children’s services (DCS) at Suffolk Council.

Sandwell’s announcement earlier this year that it planned to bring in a private sector partner raised eyebrows within the sector as it came after the authority had achieved a satisfactory rating from Ofsted for safeguarding following a series of ‘inadequate’ verdicts.

However the resignation of the former DCS, Barbara Peacock, together with fears about a rising bar of inspection criteria, raised the spectre of the department slipping back into an unsatisfactory rating.

In July, Sandwell’s chief executive, Jan Britton, told Community Care the contract was designed to be “an energy drink” for the department which would not last beyond the 30-month contract.

Speaking today, Sandwell Council’s cabinet member for children and families, Bob Badham, said: “iMPOWER was an outstanding candidate – their approach is supportive and co-operative, delivering innovative improvements which will last.

“This contract is unique as far as we know – bringing in a partner to work as part of the department rather than viewing it from the outside.” iMPOWER has already worked with Sandwell on reviewing its youth services.

The contract is due to start before the end of the year and will be paid for from savings made by management cuts across the council. It will only be finally agreed once it has been approved by a scrutiny panel, which should take approximately three weeks.

Contracted targets include reducing the number of temporary and agency staff, coaching, development and training for staff, improving early intervention and developing multi-agency working with the NHS, police and other partners.

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