New turmoil for Northamptonshire children’s services as DfE-appointed commissioner quits

Malcolm Newsam, author of report paving way for services at county to be turned over to children's services trust, has abruptly left his job

Cityscape image of Northampton, home of Northamptonshire council (credit: Jevanto Productions / Adobe Stock)
Northampton cityscape (credit: Jevanto Productions / Adobe Stock)

Children’s services at Northamptonshire council were dealt a fresh blow yesterday as the children’s commissioner appointed by the government to oversee improvements at the county quit his job.

Malcolm Newsam had only been in his job a few months, after being appointed by the Department for Education (DfE) in the wake of an Ofsted visit that found “significant decline” had set in at Northamptonshire.

Earlier this year he completed a report that paved the way for the DfE’s decision to turn children’s services in the county over to a trust, ahead of the struggling council’s division into two new unitary authorities in 2021.

The report was soon followed by a pair of serious case reviews that underscored the scale of problems at the council. A full Ofsted inspection published in July found services in Northamptonshire were ‘inadequate’.

Lack of visibility

Newsam is a former director of children’s services who has been appointed to improvement or commissioner roles at multiple authorities including Doncaster, Haringey, Knowsley, Rotherham and Sandwell.

He had recently come under fire from Northamptonshire councillors over his lack of visibility and accountability.

Last week elected members from both main parties backed a motion by Labour’s shadow member for children’s services, Jane Birch, that Newsam should be summoned before them to answer questions about his plans for the transition to a trust.

“We’ve all been a bit perplexed,” Birch told Community Care. “Services are fragile, and we need to know what is happening at the grassroots level, around early intervention and locality working for example, which will, long term, make things better for our children and families.

“We’ve had no real debriefing about the trust – we were concerned about the lack of feedback,” Birch added. “[Newsam] came to one overview and scrutiny meeting, in July – he hasn’t come to [other] committees where he would hear the discussions, and [longstanding] concerns, of councillors relating to this area.”

Birch said councillors had “not had a whisper” that Newsam was due to depart.

‘Confidence in our plans’

Northamptonshire’s cabinet member for children’s services, Fiona Baker, said: “Malcolm has put in place a good transformation plan to improve our services to children that has been approved by Ofsted and we will be working hard to make sure these improvements continue to happen.

“We look forward to hearing from the government of the future arrangements as we move our services towards trust status and focus on improving standards,” Baker added. “We have every confidence in our plans and work to see a step change in our performance.”

The DfE did not reply to questions as to the reasons for Newsam’s exit.

A spokesperson said: “We are making good progress with the creation of a new children’s services trust and are grateful to Malcolm Newsam for his role in transforming these services. We will be appointing a new commissioner, before Malcolm leaves, to finish this crucial work.”

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