Moving its children’s services to an independent trust would give Birmingham council more flexibility over social worker pay and employment packages, a report submitted to the council has said.
The report, which outlined 19 potential future models for the council’s children’s services, stated that “flexible packages of employment benefits are critical in recruiting and retaining the best staff”, while making the case for an alternative delivery model.
The report was written by consulting firm Deloitte for Europe’s largest local authority, which in May brought forward its announcement about plans to set up a voluntary trust in the wake of a critical undercover documentary filmed in its child protection team and multi-agency safeguarding hub.
In a parallel submission to the council, which will consider the Deloitte’s suggestions next Tuesday (26 July), council leaders also said a trust could address social worker pay and conditions.
“Social workers are a scarce resource and the Trust must be well placed to compete by at least matching and preferably bettering current terms and conditions,” the document from the director of children’s services Peter Hay and lead cabinet member for children’s services Brigid Jones said.
Similar claims were made by the council’s ‘improvement quartet’, including Jones and Hay, in a report written last month.
They said: “The need to be able to attract and retain social workers requires a competitive salary, good working conditions and above all a feeling of being well managed and supported. These options could perhaps best be secured in the longer term within a Trust structure.”
While it is the early stages of planning, the council says that, as a trust or alternative model, children’s services would not be a part of the council and would have separate human resources functions. Not being part of the wider council would also allow any new organisation freedom and flexibility from rules imposed on the council.
The council has been rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted since 2009, and maintaining a stable workforce has been difficult throughout that time. In 2014, it was revealed that a quarter of the council’s social work posts were unfilled. An Ofsted report published that year identified how “a number of frontline positions remain vacant and long-term sickness absence and vacancy rates, while improving, remain high and continue to pose a significant risk to securing risk to securing and retaining permanent experienced staff”. A commissioner had been in place continuously since 2013 before the decision was made earlier this year, as a result of the Dispatches documentary, to move children services into a voluntary trust.
Also among the 19 options the council will consider next week is the potential for a shared service with another local authority, employing executive commissioners, or setting up a wholly-owned council company.
While Deloitte accepted that there is “limited precedent in the sector to prove, with evidence, the positive impact of moving to an alternative delivery model, particularly on a voluntary basis,” it insisted a new model would help drive improvements by removing barriers.
“A children’s services Trust model would be predominantly about children’s social work services and can represent that sole purpose with a strong, clear voice to the council, partners and to the city. It can mobilise more joint commissioning and support better joined up thinking and partnering. Above all, its business is children and can be designed in a way that supports a single and unwavering focus on providing the best services to children, young people and families,” it said.
If the council agrees to the case for change made by the report, an appraisal of all 19 models proposed would be submitted by September by a newly established programmer board.
Following cabinet approval, work would then begin on developing the preferred trust model, with full implementation of a new model expected by March 2018.