Birmingham faces ‘virtually impossible’ task of funding essential £140m improvements to children’s services

Second report from the children's commissioner says funding improvements won't be possible without major reductions in other services

Birmingham town hall Photo: Ethel Davis/Robert Harding/Rex
Birmingham town hall Photo: Ethel Davis/Robert Harding/Rex

An extra £140m is needed to turn children’s social care services around in Birmingham, the service’s commissioner has warned.

In his second progress report for the council, Lord Norman Warner said: “The work undertaken suggests that the extra costs of safeguarding and looking after more children over the next three years may well cost an additional £140m over three years and reach an annual cost of nearly £50m by 2017/18.”

As the council faces further budget cuts, funding this improvement will be “virtually impossible” for the authority without further major reductions in other services, he warned.

“Without this investment the shortcomings identified by Ofsted and others will not be made good,” Warner said.

Warner was appointed children’s commissioner in the city after its children’s services had been rated inadequate for four years, and following the publication of Julian Le Grand’s review for improving the city’s services.

Steady progress

Despite the funding problems, Warner complimented the council on making steady progress in improving its children’s services, recruiting basic grade social workers and limiting caseload sizes.

However, he found an “inadequacy” of social work capability in both quantity and quality and a lack of supervision and development of social workers, which he said would help boost retention.

“Without some guarantee of sufficient resources and a credible social worker recruitment and retention strategy the 3-year improvement plan will not be delivered,” he warned.

Councillor Brigid Jones, cabinet member for children and family services, said the council is further developing their strategy to address the challenges they face in recruiting and retaining social workers.

The plan, Jones said, includes a highly competitive package that incorporates a clear pathway for professional development.

“In practice this will ensure progression from social worker role to senior social worker for those eligible when they have been at the council for two or more years,” she said.

Jones praised the council for “making improvements at a time when our financial position is hugely challenging” and outlined the £71.4m they plan to invest in their improvement effort over the next three years.

The report was presented to the Birmingham education and vulnerable children overview and scrutiny committee this week.

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One Response to Birmingham faces ‘virtually impossible’ task of funding essential £140m improvements to children’s services

  1. Philip Measures December 14, 2014 at 11:31 am #

    So what is new? Several years ago a previous Director of Children’s Services, Sandra Shaw, strongly advocated Birmingham be devolved into 4 areas – this has consistently been resisted by Birmingham City Council. Even recently that was still the position as endorsed by Elected Members and the Safeguarding Board – and as to why Children’s Services were allowed to fail (and to continue to fail) for so long is no secret – poor senior / bullying management / no clear staff retention and development programmes and ill-thought-out reorganisations seeing whole tranches of staff (Operational Managers and others) removed only to see exposed the weaknesses that left behind.

    Birmingham has for too long been a political ‘hot potato’ – the needs of vulnerable children and young people have been second to political considerations – Directors have come and gone – some of very dubious abilities – and bringing in the likes of CAFCASS (which as an Organisation has lost huge numbers of staff over the past 5 years and which even today can not say how many children it actually physically interacts with) is no long-term solution either.

    Other agencies have lost confidence so it does not surprise me that certain NHS settings have made alternative arrangements. Education also has had many concerns – when confidence is lost Referrals decrease, it’s quite simple!

    Unless and until speaking out is seen as positive staff will either not voice their concerns openly and honestly or they will seek to move elsewhere.

    Money is not the answer – although Birmingham does require to be adequately funded – but rather valuing and investing in frontline staff and managers and having senior managers who welcome challenge because challenge, used constructively, can and does produce positive improvements. At the very least it is a sign of a mature organisation that does not try to hide behind the status quo.