Education

22.11.18

Bucks County Council leader urges government to protect ‘life and death’ children’s services in merger

The government must ensure that ‘life and death’ children’s services are supported when the merging of council services for Buckinghamshire County Council, the authority’s leader has said.

Speaking to PSE, Cllr Martin Tett – who supported the merger of council services in the county – said the Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government (MHCLG) must heed government-appointed education commissioner John Coughlan’s warning that the improving children’s services must not be broken up by the local government structure reshuffle.

Earlier this month, communities secretary James Brokenshire announced his support of the restructure; which would remove the current two-tier structure of Buckinghamshire County Council, and the district councils of Aylesbury Vale, Chiltern, South Bucks, and Wycombe, in favour of a larger singular unitary authority.

Department of Education (DfE) appointed commissioner, John Coughlan CBE, who carried out an extended three-month review into children’s services in the county, stated in July that he was “against any local government re-organisation proposal which would break up the existing children’s services structures in Buckinghamshire,” and backed the single unitary authority option, as it would be seen as the “safest” for vulnerable children.

Cllr Tett reaffirmed this argument from Coughlan, arguing that the government must consider the “life and death” sensitive services when implementing the new service structure.

“I am very clear that the message from John Coughlan’s report must guide the MHCLG in the way that they structure the implementation,” Cllr Tett said.

“They need to ensure that people who really understand the pressures of adult social care and children’s services lead the implementation that’s relevant in these areas— because these are incredibly high-demand, high-cost, and in some cases actually life and death sensitive services. And what you can’t do is put at risk some of the most vulnerable people in our community.”

The Buckinghamshire County Council leader said in particular the county is seeing a “significant increase” in the level of demand for looked-after children.

“I can remember when we had 350 children that we looked after, I can remember when it crept up to about 490—we’re now on around 520, and each of these children can be incredibly complex and expensive. It’s morally right that we do, where appropriate, take children into care, but the consequence is a very significant pressures on our budgets,” Cllr Tett explained.

“There’s the issue of legal fees as some of these cases have to be taken to court through the correct legal process. Anything that involves lawyers is expensive, so you’ve got all of these pressures coming together, and with the growth in public expectations and the growth in demand, these become really serious costs pressures very easily.”

Earlier this month, Matt Prosser, the new CEO of the Dorset Councils unitary authority said the merger will be the “right decision” for the county.

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