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Vulnerable Children: Local Authority Support

Volume 658: debated on Monday 8 April 2019

11. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Education on improving local authority support for vulnerable children. (910272)

I am working closely with colleagues at the Department for Education to ensure that local authorities can properly support vulnerable children. I recently gave evidence to the Communities and Local Government Committee together with the Children’s Minister on that very topic.

As the Minister is aware, the Select Committee is doing an inquiry into children with special needs and disabilities. One of the things that comes back from all the evidence is the fact that support is often based on the resources available and not on the child’s needs. Will the Minister ensure that funding for the high needs block is based on need and not on historical data?

Responsibility for high needs funding rests with the Department for Education, but I would be more than happy to raise that point with my colleagues.

Essex County Council is set to carry a £15 million deficit for special educational needs and vulnerable children. I hear what the Minister says about working with the Department for Education, but what are it and MHCLG doing collectively to ensure that the Treasury looks at the long-term needs of the many children who are currently not funded?

I thank my right hon. Friend for that question. Her county council is a leader when it comes to dealing with vulnerable children; it is an example for others across the country to follow. I assure her that we are working very closely with the Department for Education. We are jointly undertaking a review to understand the exact drivers of the increased need that she mentioned, and we will make a compelling and evidence-based pitch to the Treasury come the spending review.

I am sure the Minister will agree, as he said to my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Jo Platt), that political leadership is exactly what is needed when we look at children’s services. He will therefore be as upset and aghast as me that Stoke-on-Trent City Council was rated “inadequate” in all four areas of its Ofsted inspection of children’s services. The opening line of the Ofsted report said that children were not being kept safe from risk. A failure of political leadership has meant that children have been put into unnecessarily risky situations. On top of that, the leader of the Conservative group—the deputy leader of the council—has failed to attend any corporate parenting committee meetings in the past two years. Does the Minister agree that it is time for change at Stoke-on-Trent City Council? If they will not change, the electorate will do it for them.

When we talk about vulnerable children, it is important that all councils take the precautions that are required. Of course I will listen very carefully to the findings of that Ofsted report. The Department for Education has recently made available £80 million in innovation funding. All councils can avail themselves of it to improve their practice and ensure that vulnerable children everywhere get the support and care they require.

Will Ministers support vulnerable children through to adulthood by enabling them to access integrated services through the roll-out of family hubs?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that issue. We all recognise the value of strong families, and she champions that cause especially well. I welcome the development of family hubs. I am pleased to tell her that our troubled families programme specifically enables a family-centric approach to supporting those in need. That often involves the use of family hubs, which we encourage.