Department for Education and Skills to probe whether councils operate level-playing field for children’s services contracts

The government will review whether children’s services markets operate on a level-playing field for all providers, amid criticisms from voluntary bodies that councils are favouring in-house provision.

A Department for Education and Skills third sector strategy said the review, which will look at whether providers from different sectors can compete on equal terms for children’s services contracts, was part of its efforts to remove barriers to charities delivering services.

Charities have long accused councils of not comparing in-house and external services equitably, as revealed by a series of reports for the DfES by consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers on children’s services markets, most recently on the market for parenting support services.

Voluntary bodies have claimed councils have costed their own services as cheaper than charities’ provision, without comparing like with like.

The action plan also stated that all contracts for children’s services should ensure full-cost recovery for providers and should be for three years in most cases.

It also said the DfES would shortly publish research on the impact of introducing individual budgets for disabled children on the market in services for this group, and also review the market in education for pupils who are excluded or at risk of exclusion.

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