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Buckinghamshire split into two unitaries would be ‘retrograde’ for children’s services

Buckinghamshire County Council will retain its children’s services after a new government report found that, although there is still long a way to go, the services are on the right path to improve.

This is a positive step as the report said that “some progress had been made following the 2014 judgement,” but noted that this was still “partial and limited in its genuine impact on performance.”

The Department for Education (DfE) appointed commissioner, John Coughlan CBE, chief executive of Hampshire County Council, carried out a comprehensive three-month review after a negative Ofsted report in November 2017, and found “no valid reason for the introduction of an alternative delivery model in Buckinghamshire.”

As part of the report, the commissioner spent time meeting with children’s services staff and partners and “strongly endorses the current direction of travel of the authority.”

The DfE has also appointed Hampshire County Council as improvement adviser to support Buckinghamshire’s improvement programme.

Coughlan stated that he is “against any local government re-organisation proposal which would break up the existing children’s services structures in Buckinghamshire,” as the cost and pain of reorganisation would far outweigh the arguable local benefit.

Martin Tett, leader of the council, said: “I endorse the commissioner’s extremely clear conclusions on local government reform. Any splitting up of the county into two unitaries would not be positive for children's services.”

Simon Edwards, director of the County Councils Network, acknowledged the report’s suggestion that the best way to continue the authority’s upward trajectory is not to outsource services into a trust or any other alternative delivery model, but to “utilise sector-led improvement and the expertise of high-performing local authorities.”

“In light of current discussions over local government structures in Buckinghamshire, the commissioner’s report warns that splitting children’s services into two different local authorities at this stage would be ‘high risk’ and ‘retrograde’, and that a single council accountable for all of its children’s services is the ‘safest’ option for vulnerable children,” continued Edwards.

“We are sure the government will take this into account when it makes its final decision on reorganisation the county.”

Top image: ChrisAt via iStock


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