Two concerned county councillors are calling on the national Children’s Commissioner to carry out an independent inquiry into the state of Northamptonshire’s children’s services.
Cllr Jane Birch, who is Labour shadow portfolio holder for the service, and Cllr Danielle Stone are calling on Anne Longfield to do a deep dive into the situation at Northamptonshire County Council in the wake of Government-appointed commissioner Malcolm Newsam and the boss of the service and her deputy deciding to leave.
In an open letter to Anne Longfield they say before the Government-directed independent children’s trust is set up, there needs to be answers about what is going on in the failing children department.
It was revealed last week that more than 200 children in need do not have a dedicated social worker and Conservative leader Matt Golby said recruiting permanent staff is proving to be very difficult. Ofsted has rated the service as inadequate.
The two councillors say in their joint letter they feel there is a lack of transparency and leadership.
They write: “We would ask that you consider seriously our request for an independent inquiry into the situation.
“There are questions to be asked before the service is transferred to a children’s trust, if that is even the right way forward. There are growing doubts about the recommendation and subsequent decision to form a children’s trust as we move to two unitary authorities.”
The children’s trust was suggested by Malcolm Newsam – who has made a similar suggestion in other areas. Cllr Stone has previously said the commissioner did not do enough research before suggesting the childlren’s trust model for the county, which is in a unique situation because of its financial crisis.
The plan is to have the new model up and running by July next year. It would then from 2021 be commissioned by the anticipated two new unitaries to provide child protection services. School admissions would remain under the local authorities.
It is not just the opposition who have concerns about the trust. Conservative Cllr Adam Brown, who represents Bugbrooke, said the trust has been sold as a panacea but he feared otherwise.
He said: “My concerns are about having democratic oversight or some form of democratic control over the new trust. The information I have been given is that, that will be largely lacking. There will be some council representatives but that does not equate to full control. The councils will have the legal and financial responsibility for the trust but the decisions will not lay with them.
“There is nothing we can do except speak out and try and create political pressure. This is a decision that has been made by the Department for Education and we have been completely overridden.”