Addition Thoughts on the Proposed Closure of Children's Centres
- The Wrong Vision
BCC’s vision for the proposals is set out in paragraph 1 of the accompanying Cabinet paper:
“Residents will take greater responsibility for meeting their own needs, and those of their families and their communities. Aspiration, rather than dependency, will be valued, and everyone will play their part in the success of the County. Within this context, the Councils’ resources will be focused on enabling the conditions in which our communities can prosper.”
Aylesbury Labour does not share this vision; at a time of great austerity in the country when more and more children and young people have to live with poverty, inadequate mental and physical health care and homelessness, Aylesbury Labour believe it is heartless and cruel to expect vulnerable children and young people, and their families, to take “greater responsibility for meeting their own needs”.
Aylesbury Labour believe vulnerable children and young people need the Council’s help and support more than ever. Vulnerable children and young people are legally and morally entitled to that support. They should not be ashamed of being called “dependent” and should not be required to “aspire”.
- Reality versus fantasy
The reality is that BCC provides a poor service to our children and young people. Indeed the consultative document recognises this. The services are fragmented and under-funded. Some services are provided in-house and some are contracted out to a wide range of agencies with overlapping responsibilities and objectives. Value for money is poor and practically all of the services have seen their budgets cut at a time when demand is rising sharply.
For example, in 2014, BCC was warned by its then Head of Children’s Services that those services would be assessed as inadequate if further cuts were made to the budget. BCC went ahead and cut £1 million from the budget – and OFSTED walked in and assessed the services as inadequate. BCC then said it had an improvement plan that would put things right – and the Secretary of State rejected the plan and put her own advisors in. 3 years later and an extra £10 million and still Children’s Services “requires improvement”.
We know that BCC never learns and has cut £1.4 million from the budget this year.
As another example, we know the funding of youth work in Bucks has been halved from £6.4 million to £3.2 million since 2010/11. Over 40% of the remaining funding has been contracted out to two organisations.
Now BCC propose a major re-organisation. BCC propose to bring together current services for children and young people into a new “delivery model”. One of the consultative documents implies the changes will be limited to 10 services most of which are contracted out, the other consultative document implies there could be more services included in the delivery model and the Cabinet paper implies that the changes would include work currently carried out on a statutory basis in- house.
It is also unclear how the work would be organized once it had been brought together. The reader has to infer that the services would be contracted out rather than being brought in-house. If contracted out, would the nine “teams of lead family workers” be contracted out as a block or as nine separate contracts? What is the schedule for the work to be tendered, contracts signed, training for the new work to be carried out, and cases transferred to new staff?
No-where in the papers is there a cost benefit analysis of the options of contracting out as against bringing all the work back in-house. Bringing the work back in-house would have major benefits in providing the co-ordination which OFSTED noted was lacking in Buckinghamshire.
Nor is there an explanation of the relationship of the services (if any) which would be left for BCC itself to provide and the services which are to be contracted out. Would they work independently? Who would decide when cases were transferred? And would the “lead family workers” be required to be qualified social workers?
We believe the proposals are aspirational; they are not sound, workable solutions to a problem. The proposed timescale is unrealistic and will put the services to our most vulnerable children and young people at risk.
- It’s all about money really.
It came as no surprise to us to find that the nub of the proposals is to save money because we know BCC is broke and is heading for real financial trouble, not least from its pension liabilities. It will not be rescued from its difficulties by unifying the county and district councils and raiding the district councils’ reserves.
We can see how BCC propose to make cuts. First it says the new delivery model “will not operate on a have a drop-in basis” but restrict its initial contact to a central phone number and a website. We believe this will exclude large numbers of people from contacting BCC when they are in trouble, including the most vulnerable.
BCC then propose its family workers will have face- to- face contact in family homes and in places such as libraries or cafes. We oppose these proposals which would mean having confidential discussions about for example health and disabilities, addiction, debt, neglect or abuse with no guarantee of privacy. This is disrespectful, unprofessional and possibly illegal, particularly for children and young people. We would like to know if BCC has taken legal advice on this critical part of its proposals.
This part of the delivery model is critical because it means BCC can close down the Children’s Centres and other buildings currently used for these services. The buildings can then be sold off or leased out. We note the outcome of the building review will be presented in the autumn.
The proceeds from the buildings appears to be in addition to a £3.3 million cut to the services when the new delivery model comes on stream. We could not see where these cuts would be made. However, if BCC intends to contact the services out, we assume it will be relatively easy – BCC will just cut the funding available in the contract.
Incidentally, we note that BCC cite two external sources in support of their new delivery model. One is a report published by the Early Intervention Foundation but we can find no support for BCC’s proposals in that report, particularly BCC’s rejection of “building based services”.
The other is the success of the “Troubled Families” scheme. However, the official evaluation of the £1.3bn government “Troubled Families” scheme concluded it had had no discernible impact on a range of measures for the families including unemployment, truancy or criminality. The report was suppressed by David Cameron.