Doncaster wins case over plan to outsource children’s services

The government has agreed that Doncaster council can help design and commission the independent trust that will take over its children’s services department for the next five to 10 years.

Education secretary Michael Gove has written to Ros Jones, the mayor of Doncaster, agreeing to plans put forward by the council to be involved in setting up the arms length body.

Under the plans, Doncaster’s director of children’s services would become the chief executive of the trust, while the board of the trust would consist of senior leaders from other local agencies.

Staff would be seconded, rather than transferred, to the trust so would still be able to access the Local Government Pension Scheme.

Jones had argued this approach would provide more accountability and stronger links with local partner agencies than the original model proposed in the Le Grand review of Doncaster’s children’s services.

She also pointed out the original model was open to legal challenges due to a lack of public consultation and legal complexities around accountability.

The Le Grand review had proposed removing responsibility for all children’s services, except for education, from the council to ensure a clean break with its troubled past.

However, in his letter Gove said he was now “content to agree in principle to the establishment of the Doncaster Children’s Trust, without the requirement to remove Doncaster’s children’s services function entirely”.

He said services must be delivered by a trust which was genuinely independent of the council and able to act autonomously in delivering the improvements needed. If improvement was delayed or hampered he reserved the right to remove the children’s services function entirely from the council.

Alan Wood, director of children’s services at Hackney, will also become commissioner for children’s social care in Doncaster and in charge of agreeing a timetable and implementation plan with Doncaster’s officials by 10 October.

Gove said Department of Education officials would also discuss funding of implementation costs with Doncaster Council.

Andrew Webb, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), said he was pleased the council and the government had agreed on a model, but pointed out there were still a range of complex issues of accountability to be worked through. “We await further details on the exact nature of the trust,” he said.

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