Children’s services in Reading will move to a new company “wholly owned” by the council, the local authority has announced.
“The standalone company will focus solely on the operation of children’s services, allowing social workers and other staff to concentrate on their core day to day activity,” the council said in a statement.
Last September the government appointed Nick Whitfield, the chief executive of community interest company Achieving for Children, to evaluate whether Reading‘s ‘inadequate’ children’s services should leave direct council control. Achieving for Children has operated children’s services in the London boroughs of Kingston and Richmond since 2014, and recently took over at neighbouring Windsor and Maidenhead.
Reading‘s decision comes just a month after an Ofsted monitoring report described progress at the council as “too slow and process-oriented”. It said the workforce remained unstable and that “the majority of senior, middle and frontline managers” were still temporary staff.
A number of other councils, including Slough and Doncaster, have moved their children’s services into trusts or separate companies. It is envisaged that Reading‘s new system will be up and running by September 2018.
“This means we can build on the improvements made so far and – importantly – it will allow us to ensure those improvements are sustainable in the long term,” said Jo Lovelock, the leader of Reading council, adding that she accepted Ofsted’s recent criticisms.
“Clearly we need to have detailed discussions with staff and social workers who are working extremely hard in very difficult circumstances,” Lovelock said.
Whitfield added that the council had increased its children’s services budgets and was “in the process” of filling managerial posts permanently to promote stability ahead of the changes.
“The lead member and council officers have been fully co-operative with me in exploring options that will allow the improvements in children’s services, which all parties want to see,” Whitfield said. “We will work together in the coming months to ensure the council’s ambitions are fulfilled.”