Doncaster children’s services outsourced for five years after damning review

Le Grand review finds a 'culture of failure and disillusion' at Doncaster that 'pervades the service and serves to obstruct every attempt at reform'

Doncaster’s children’s services will be outsourced to an independent trust for at least five years, education secretary Michael Gove has announced.

The move follows an independent review by academic Professor Julian Le Grand, Hackney director of children’s services Alan Wood and Dame Moira Gibb on ways forward for the troubled council, which has been subject to numerous government improvement measures in recent years.

The report pointed out that despite numerous changes in leadership, the difficulties within the council have failed to be resolved. “Fundamentally the problem seems to be one of culture: there is a culture of failure and disillusion that pervades the service and that serves to obstruct every attempt at reform,” Le Grand said.

The authors concluded that only with a decisive break from its past, and with the council, could children’s services in Doncaster hope to improve. It has been reported that Doncaster’s new Labour mayor Ros Jones is disappointed by the government’s move.

The independent trust will provide all children’s services, except education, and Hackney director Wood will be appointed as a commissioner of children’s services with responsibility for ensuring the report’s recommendations are implemented.

History of government intervention at Doncaster

2005-2009: Problems identified by successive Ofsted reports are not addressed.

2009: High profile Edlington case led to government Improvement Board to oversee reforms.

2010: Audit Commission reported Doncaster was not properly run and government ordered three commissioners to be appointed with the power to appoint, discipline and dismiss senior staff.

2011-2012: Despite three years of government intervention, two Ofsted reports rate children’s services as inadequate.

November 2012: Lord Carlile publishes a report on the Edlington Case, which makes wide-ranging recommendations.

March 2013: Independent panel headed by Professor Julian Le Grand is asked to report on the way forward for children’s services.

July 2013: Le Grand report published and Government agrees to take responsibility for all children’s services, except education, away from the council.

Trust to be established for 10-year period

The trust, to be created by 1 April next year, will be established for a 10-year period, but there will be a review period after five years to decide if control should be handed back to the council. Doncaster’s children’s services staff will be transferred to the new trust under their existing terms and conditions.

The report also recommended the board of the trust have two staff representatives to encourage staff engagement which the authors recognised as a serious issue within the council’s children’s services.

The trust should also be set up as a public service mutual: either partly or wholly owned by staff. This would help motivate staff and unleash innovation, the report claimed.

It was unreasonable to expect Doncaster council to meet the set-up costs of the trust, nor the first year’s running costs, but it should start to increase its contributions over three years depending on its ability to find efficiency savings in other areas.

The report made the point that government ministers and officials would need to provide appropriate and sufficient funds, both to “recognise the financial picture facing the council and the need to ensure sufficient independence for the new organisation”. It said many members of staff within the authority had criticised the government for failing to provide enough high quality support in the past.

ADCS warning on splitting up children’s services

In a letter to Doncaster’s new Labour mayor, however, Michael Gove only committed £250,000 to help secure the appointment of a new private improvement partner iMPOWER, which had already been tendered prior to LeGrand’s report being published. Gove said such an appointment would help secure immediate improvements and help with the transition to the new trust.

Andrew Webb, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, said the government should be “mindful” of the potential unintended consequences of splitting up children’s services.

“ADCS strongly believes that local government should be expected to lead and drive its own improvement in all of its services. This is especially the case for services for safeguarding and protecting our children. The role of central government in requiring local authorities to improve is well established and there are many examples of their involvement,” Webb said today. 

He said any new arrangements must be fully engaged with the wider work of the council “to ensure that potentially negative fragmentation of services does not occur”.

Community Care has contacted Doncaster council for a response.

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