Doncaster council to be stripped of children's services

Michael Gove Michael Gove said an independent trust would run Doncaster's children's services for up to 10 years

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Doncaster Council is to become the first local authority to be stripped of control of children's services, following a "legacy of failure".

The education secretary Michael Gove said an independent trust would run services, which have been supervised by government since 2009, from next year.

A report said a "decisive break" was needed to move on from failings that saw seven children die in five years.

The Mayor of Doncaster, Ros Jones, said she was "deeply disappointed".

The new trust will take over all children's social work and care operations, while the council would retain responsibility for schools and education.

In March 2009, the government ordered a takeover of Doncaster's children's services following the deaths of seven children in the district through abuse or neglect over five years.

Less than a year later a serious case review found the attacks in the nearby town of Edlington in which two young boys were tortured by two brothers, aged 11 and 12, had been "preventable".

'Mammoth ship'

The new report said: "There needs to be a line drawn under the historic failure, a separation that permits the development of a new culture - one of development, improvement and innovation, instead of one of frustration, disillusion and stagnation."

Analysis

Many thought Doncaster's reputation could not get any worse. It just did.

The council now has the distinction of being the first ever to have its children's services department forcibly removed and handed over to an independent trust.

Question marks about the council stretch back nearly a decade, but after the government took control in 2009 there are people asking whether ministers could have done more to turn the department around.

According to the report the new independent body will be set up by April but there are concerns that timescale is too tight.

Trade unions will be concerned about the rights of staff who will be transferred to the new organisation, but the report does try to allay fears about the service being privatised.

The council wanted more time to prove they could turn children's services around but the clock just stopping ticking and this is a fundamental change in how Doncaster keeps children safe.

The review, commissioned by Education Secretary Michael Gove, was written by academic Julian Le Grand, Alan Wood, the director of children's services in Hackney, and Dame Moira Gibb, chair of the Social Work Reform Board.

Writing to Mrs Jones, Mr Gove said: "Given this assessment, I agree with the recommendations and will now seek to put them into effect."

He said he hoped the trust would be operational by April 2014 and that Mr Wood would be appointed to oversee the transfer of power from the council to the new body.

"The review panel recommends that, when improvements to the service are secure and confidence in Doncaster Council's ability to deliver children's social care functions is gained, those services should return to council control," he wrote.

"My intention is therefore to establish the trust for a 10-year period, with a review point after five years.

"Progress of both the trust and the council's capacity to deliver its functions can be assessed at that stage and a decision taken as to whether the continue."

Mr Gove pledged £250,000 to the council to contribute towards the costs of running children's services in the interim.

Mrs Jones, who was elected as mayor of Doncaster in May and immediately announced she would prioritise children's services, said the report had not given her administration a chance to act.

She said: "We will do what's best for the children of Doncaster and would never walk away from it.

"I believe that internally we could have actually worked along, got everyone on board and started turning around what is a mammoth ship.

"I'm deeply disappointed. We will do what's needed in order to make sure our kids are safe but I believe that this is too presumptuous.

"They've not given us a chance with the people that we've brought in with a national reputation of turning round children's services to take it forward."

In June the council announced private consultancy firm Impower would take over management of the department from 1 July as the authority's "improvement partner" under the direction of Eleanor Brazil.

Ms Brazil was interim deputy director of children and families services following the death of Peter Connelly, also known as Baby P, in 2007 after social workers missed signs of abuse.

The report said it favoured an independent trust over a private sector partner model as, while more costly to set up, it could be "tailor-made" for Doncaster, less disruptive to staff, and, if set up as a not-for-profit organisation would "allay public concerns about the risk of privatisation".

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