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Local Government

Volume 649: debated on Tuesday 13 November 2018

In May, I appointed commissioners to undertake the strategic finance and governance functions in Northamptonshire County Council as a result of the findings of the best value inspection published in March this year.

In October, Ofsted conducted a two-day visit to look at children’s services in the council, and has published its findings today. Children’s services in Northamptonshire were rated “requires improvement” overall by Ofsted at its last inspection in 2016, but have deteriorated significantly since then. There are particular concerns about the relatively high number of unallocated and unassessed cases, and a social care workforce that are highly dependent on agency staff. The letter from Ofsted states:

“when children in Northamptonshire are referred to children’s social care, they are not consistently or effectively assessed, supported or protected.”

A copy of this letter is available in the Library of the House.

The commissioners have also written to me and the Education Secretary to highlight their concerns about children’s services, recommending that an additional commissioner is appointed to strengthen the Government intervention in this area.

Having carefully considered the evidence and having spoken to the commissioners, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and I agree that we should act swiftly to strengthen the focus on children in the current intervention, by appointing an additional commissioner to the existing commissioner team. Keeping vulnerable children safe is one of the most important duties local authorities carry out and any deterioration in the performance of Northamptonshire children’s services cannot continue.

The Secretary of State for Education has therefore announced that he is minded to appoint a children’s services commissioner for Northamptonshire under the powers granted to him by Parliament under section 497A(4B) of the Education Act 1996. This will help to stabilise and improve the service so each and every child receives the protection they deserve. The commissioner would also help the authority decide how best to deliver children’s services after the potential local government reorganisation in Northamptonshire. The Secretary of State for Education and I will receive regular progress reports from our commissioner team.

The Secretary of State for Education sees Malcolm Newsam CBE as a very strong candidate for the role of children’s services commissioner. Mr Newsam is an experienced director of children’s services. He has worked in a number of local authorities, including as children services commissioner in Sandwell, and previously as an executive commissioner for children’s services in Rotherham, working closely with other Government commissioners as part of a wider Government intervention.

Additional children’s services capacity has also been brought in through the Department for Education’s Partners in Practice programme, with Lincolnshire County Council providing practical support and improvement advice.

The Secretary of State for Education will consider any representations on his proposal, which are made in the next week by Northamptonshire County Council, before deciding whether or not to appoint a children’s services commissioner.