A council has been told to submit plans for an alternative delivery model for its ‘inadequate’-rated children’s services by the end of this month.
Reading council announced in July its intention to move its children’s services, rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted in August 2016, into a council-owned company, and the timeline comes as the government has issued a new direction to the council.
A report published this week by the council’s commissioner, Nick Whitfield, supported the change as necessary to address concerns about improvement and budgets.
Whitfield, the chief executive of Achieving for Children, the first council-owned company of its kind running children’s services (in the London boroughs of Kingston and Richmond), said Reading’s services should come out of direct council control “for the period of their intervention” and that a commissioner fully explore all of the options available to the council.
Whitfield has been reappointed as children’s commissioner in Reading for the new purpose of exploring the alternative delivery model, with the government requiring a business and implementation plan to be submitted to it by 30 September.
He found a “major issue” for the council was its budget situation, and for budgetary reasons alone “it would be difficult for children’s services in Reading to remain in its current format”.
“The removal of services from the council is, therefore, not something being done to the council but is rather something being done with the council in order to ensure high quality services for children and families,” Whitfield’s report said.
He said he had explored a number of options, including finding a partner, either another local authority or an organisation from the voluntary sector, with whom to create joint services.
However, at the time of making his recommendation, three out of six Berkshire authorities were judged as ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted, two as ‘requires improvement’ and one awaiting inspection, this meant that “potential partners are focussed on their own work”. Two of those authorities have since been rated ‘good’ by Ofsted.
He added: “Whilst there was an appetite to work together later, currently there was little appetite for a joint service.”
He also rejected the option to bring in an organisation from the voluntary sector due to the length of time it would take, as well as being “sceptical about the prospect of finding any one voluntary organisation that would have both the appetite for and experience of turning around an inadequate service.”
A new direction issued to the council by the Department for Education said it was “still failing to perform to an adequate standard”. A monitoring inspection in the authority published in June said it was “still not making the expected progress”.
At the time the plans to set up the company were announced, Reading council leader Jo Lovelock said: “While improvements have been made, every organisation involved in children services in Reading accepts the pace of improvement is not quick enough. We recognise there remains much to be done.”