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30.11.18

New children’s services commissioner takes over at Northamptonshire

The government has appointed a children’s services commissioner for Northamptonshire and issued a statutory direction to the county council requiring immediate improvement.

The direction follows a damning report from Ofsted which said that the council’s children’s services had declined “significantly” in the last two years after inspectors found social workers “overwhelmed” and “drowning.”

The Department for Education has appointed Malcolm Newsam as the children’s services commissioner, who is now tasked with drastically improving the region’s services.

The Ofsted report, published 13 November, found that children were “not consistently or effectively assessed, supported or protected,” with major concerns over workforce capacity, oversight and case progression.

Inspectors noted that the financial uncertainty plaguing the council had led to shortfalls in social work capacity across the children’s services, creating unmanageable caseloads and unassessed work.

Following the inspection, James Brokenshire announced in a written statement that an additional commissioner would be appointed as swift action was needed to “strengthen the focus on children in the current intervention” by adding another person.

In May, the government appointed both a lead and finance commissioner to help balance the books at the struggling local authority, and yesterday they published their first progress report on work to rebuild the council.

Facing a budget deficit of £70m, Northamptonshire became the first council in 20 years to issue a section 114 spending ban in February, followed by a second section 114 notice in July.

Newsam’s role is to provide immediate support to stabilise and improve Northamptonshire’s children’s services, and to work with the other commissioners to decide how best to deliver them.

Education secretary Damian Hinds said Newsam was a “very strong record” due to his track record in the field and his experience with local authorities.

Despite the announcement yesterday that £70m of capital receipts would be made available, commissioners are due to be in place until March 2019, providing the communities secretary with regular updates, with the current deficit alleged to be around £35m for the year.

Along with seven other Northamptonshire councils, the county council will make way for two new unitary authorities, with a consultation currently underway with the councils and local public organisations and residents.

Image credit - Joe Giddens/PA Wire

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