Professor Eileen Munro fears the government will not have the courage to give local authorities more freedom from government-imposed bureaucracy, as recommended in her review of child protection.
“My impression is that they’re positive about [the review], but my concern is whether they have the courage to let go because central government is the entity that created the prescriptive system that’s in place,” she told the MPs this morning.
“I’m concerned whether they have the courage to do it without putting in place so many safety nets that they trap professionals. You have to have an element of trust that people in the relevant professions won’t go berserk.”
She was addressing MPs on the House of Commons’ education select committee.
Munro said the ongoing pilots in which local authorities have scrapped statutory deadlines in child protection work were a good example of the innovation that can result when bureacracy is relaxed.
“Over the past few decades, the reliance on government guidance has made a lot of places quite passive,” she said. “But the biggest lesson I’ve learned from these pilots is that there is enthusiasm and confidence in some areas to take control and redesign the way they work.
“If you give people more bureaucratic freedom, they really do rather intelligent things.”
Munro emphasised, however, that some local authorities might not want to take on the new model due to a lack of confidence in their current staff arrangements or other shortcomings in their service provision systems.
The committee asked Munro whether she believed the early intervention grant should be ring-fenced, as a taskforce of children’s charities has called for this week.
“That would go against the mood of my recommendations, which aim to give more responsibility to the locality,” she said. “It’s about letting them make the decision about how they use their money.”
Munro said an alternative way of ensuring local authorities fulfilled the legal duty for early intervention, recommended in her review, would be to put in place an inspection system. She suggested local safeguarding children boards could take charge of assessing this area within child protection departments.
The Munro Review Implementation Working Group, chaired by children’s minister Tim Loughton, has met twice since the final report was published in May. The government has said it will produce an official response to Munro’s recommendations by the end of the summer.
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