Reading Borough Council proposes to move to a new model for delivering children’s services in the form of a Council-owned company, it has announced today (July 28).
As part of its ongoing improvement journey, the Council is recommending setting up a wholly-owned Council trading company to build on progress made to date and to deliver long-term and sustainable improvements for children and young people in Reading.
The stand-alone company will focus solely on the operation of children’s services, allowing social workers and other staff to concentrate on their core day to day activity of helping to keep children safe and delivering a range of other services to children, young people and their families.
It would have its own independent board and a decision-making process, separate to the Councils. It would also operate within its own ring-fenced budget. The Council will however, continue to hold the company to account for performance.
The recommendation has been made following discussions involving Council Leader Jo Lovelock, Chief Executive Peter Sloman and Reading Children’s Commissioner Nick Whitfield.
Reading Borough Council agrees with the Commissioner and Ofsted, both of which acknowledge that while children’s services in Reading have stabilised, the pace and scale of improvement is not fast enough.
The Council’s ambition for the new company is that it will become a regional centre of excellence for social work training and development, and that it will eventually look to build on its success and trade these services with other councils. Any revenue raised by the company will go back into further improving Council services in Reading.
Over the coming months Reading Borough Council will work up detailed proposals on how the new company will operate. This work will include developing a bid to Central Government for start-up costs for the new wholly-owned trading company.
The Council will consult with staff and the trade unions and final proposals will also need to be ratified at a later date by a future meeting of the Council. The intention is that the new Reading children’s services company would be operational by September 2018.
Councillor Jo Lovelock, Reading Borough Council Leader, said:
“Throughout this process our priority has always been to put children first, and that is also at the heart of this decision.
“While improvements have been made, every organisation involved in children services in Reading accepts the pace of improvement is not quick enough. We recognise there remains much to be done.
“Working with the Commissioner, we have looked closely at all the options open to us. Transferring children’s services to a stand-alone Council-owned company will ensure a single and dedicated focus on children’s care in Reading, allowing social workers and other staff to concentrate solely on their jobs. A number of Councils have now followed this route. It means we can build on the improvements made so far and – importantly – it will allow us to ensure those improvements are sustainable in the long term.
“We are clear that the Council will continue to meet its own obligations to children in Reading by holding the company to account for performance. That will form part of the contract.
“Clearly we need to have detailed discussions with staff and social workers who are working extremely hard in very difficult circumstances. The Council is also working hard to appoint permanent members of staff at leadership level, including the new permanent Chief Executive, Peter Sloman, who joined recently. This will further accelerate the improvements.
“Ultimately, our ambition is to achieve the best possible outcomes for children and young people in Reading.”
Nick Whitfield, Children’s Services Commissioner for Reading, said:
“Since the Ofsted inspection last year the Leader of the Council has been clear with me that her foremost concern is the quality of the services the Council provides for children, young people and families in Reading.
“The Lead Member and Council officers have been fully co-operative with me in exploring options that will allow the improvements in children’s services, which all parties want to see. We will work together in the coming months to ensure the Council’s ambitions are fulfilled.”
While detailed proposals for the new Reading children’s services company are being worked up, Reading Borough Council’s improvement programme for children’s services continues, as does its investment in the service. Since Ofsted’s latest visit in May the number of social workers in post has increased. Caseloads are generally now within recognised guidelines.
There is an on-going campaign to attract more social workers to Reading and the Council has additionally increased the number of social worker posts to reflect increased referrals, which is also the trend nationally. Responding to increased workloads, the Council has increased its children’s services budgets by 20% in recent years and is in the process of filling children’s services manager’s posts permanently, in order to further increase stability.
The Council has recently invested in new IT systems which help with monitoring and record keeping, and a new team is being formed to run and support this. A new training and development programme has also been developed which managers and front line staff will benefit from.