Social work activists and Unison have called on Birmingham’ City Council to justify whether existing funding will be sufficient to achieve much-needed improvements to children’s services.
The call came in an open letter to council leader Albert Bore from West Midlands Social Work Action Network (SWAN), campaign group Birmingham Against the Cuts and Unison’s Birmingham branch.
The letter referred to this year’s report by government adviser Julian Le Grand into council children’s services, which which identified historic under-spending within the local authority compared to others. It called on Bore to say whether current plan to invest an additional £9 million this year, and £30 million allocated to boost spending between 2015-2018, would address the historic under-funding in the council.
Birmingham City Council’s children’s services is infamous for its problems. It has been rated inadequate by Ofsted consistently since 2008 and was at one point referred to as a “national disgrace” by Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw.
These factors led to the government-commissioned report by Professor Julian Le Grand on ways forward for children’s social care services in Birmingham, which spoke about a “long term under-investment in children’s social care services, which has led to the development of services that manage demand only by maintaining very high risk thresholds”.
The letter referred to Le Grand’s report, council annual audit letters and comments by the government’s commissioner to the council, Lord Norman Warner, where he said the current improvement plan needed three or four times the amount the council has currently budgeted for.
SWAN spoke about the need for Bore to be “completely transparent on this key issue”.
A SWAN spokesperson said: “Although there has been huge media and public attention to what is happening in Birmingham, the key information is not in the public domain.”
“The public of Birmingham need to know that this £9 million investment is adequate, and if it isn’t how much more is needed,” he added.
He also spoke about the incredible “false economy” of the £9 million investment being taken from the wider children services budget.
The goal of the “challenge” is to get the council “coming clean on the level of investment needed and how this level of investment going to be found”.
He also raised concerns about the government forcing Birmingham to outsource its children’s services into an independent trust, as has happened in Doncaster.
A spokesperson from Birmingham council criticised the letter, saying “things have changed in this organisation since 2009/10 so some of the points made in this letter are not comparing like with like”.
The spokesperson added: “As has been widely reported we have invested significantly in child protection, including increasing agency social worker rates and working hard to recruit permanent staff and we are working closely with Lord Warner as we drive through our improvement plan.”
SWAN spoke of the need for the council to be “transparent” and said it was using the letter to generate public debate and awareness of the issues.
“This is not a sustainable situation, we know the children of Birmingham have been failed because we haven’t adequately resourced those services the question for us is now how are those resources going to be found.”