What the judge said about BCC’s decision to close 19 Children’s Centres

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19 August 2019

Last month, the High Court of Justice considered the lawfulness of the decision by Bucks County Council to close 19 of its 35 Children’s Centres. The judge did not consider whether the decision was right or wrong but decided BCC had taken the decision lawfully.

This is my layperson’s explanation of the judgement. The judgement runs to 18 pages so I’ve extracted what I think are the guts. I am only going to cover two of the complaints raised by the mother who brought the case.

The first complaint was that BCC was in breach of Section 5A of the Childcare Act 2006 and the mandatory statutory guidance made under that Act.

Section 5A says:-

(1) Arrangements made by an English Local Authority under section 3(2) must, so far as is reasonably practicable, include arrangements for sufficient provision of children’s centres to meet local need.

(2) “Local need” is the need of parents, prospective parents and young children in the authority’s area.”

This is known as the “sufficiency” duty.

In order to discharge the sufficiency duty, a local authority has to consider and assess: -

- the need for children’s centres in their area;

- what provision would be enough to meet that need; and

- what number of children’s centres it would be reasonably practicable for the Local Authority to provide, taking into account such matters as affordability, and practical considerations such as the availability of appropriate buildings, geographic location, and accessibility.

The statutory guidance sets out what a local authority should do to meet the sufficiency duty, including:-

• “ensure that a network of children’s centres is accessible to all families with young children in their area;

• ensure that children’s centres and their services are within reasonable reach of all families with young children in urban and rural areas, taking into account distance and availability of transport;

• consider how best to ensure that the families who need services can be supported to access them;

• target children’s centres services at young children and families in the area who are at risk of poor outcomes through, for example, effective outreach services, based on the analysis of local need;

• not close an existing children’s centre site in any reorganisation of provision unless they can demonstrate that, where they decide to close a children’s centre site, the outcomes for children, particularly the most disadvantaged, would not be adversely affected and will not compromise the duty to have sufficient children’s centres to meet local need. The starting point should therefore be a presumption against the closure of children’s centres.

• take into account the views of local families and communities in deciding what is sufficient children’s centre provision”.

The barrister representing the mother argued that:

- There was no express statement by BCC that the Council had had specific regard to the requirements of Section 5A,

- There was no passage that directly addressed the question whether the reduced number of children’s centres under BCC’s preferred option met the needs of parents, prospective parents and young children in Buckinghamshire for such centres.

- Nowhere in BCC’s documents was there anything to say that the Council had identified the need for children’s centres or assessed sufficiency. This was a precise and distinct statutory obligation which could not be submerged in passages in the documents relating to the discharge of other duties.

- Because children’s centres were open to all, and not reserved for young children with additional needs, by specifically focusing on the laudable aim of improving the provision of services for more vulnerable children of all ages, the Council lost sight of, and therefore failed to assess, the local need of all families with children aged 0-5.

The judge said in her judgement “The Council plainly concluded that the 16 family centres would suffice. It did not need to spell this out in terms, so long as it performed the duty in substance, as I am satisfied it did. There was no single line assessing a particular level of need or addressing sufficiency, which gave [the submission by the barrister for the mother] a certain superficial attraction; but as [the barrister for BCC] submitted, consideration of sufficiency to meet local need was pervasive through every stage of the decision-making process.”

The judge cited a number of relevant references in BCC documents, for example:

- an appendix to an options appraisal document referred to Section 5A.

- paragraph 19 of the same (or perhaps some other) report said that “the rationale for these additional sites is to effectively meet local needs, as well as to maximise the accessibility of family centres.” The judge said this “demonstrates that the Council addressed its mind to the sufficiency duty”.

- paragraph 18, in conjunction with Appendix 4, explained how the location of the family centres was chosen.

The judge was satisfied that “the material before the court is sufficient to establish that the Council did assess the overall needs and locally based needs of families with young children, and of the children themselves, for children’s centres; and that it did make a conscious and informed decision that the 16 centres at the selected locations would be enough to meet those needs. Therefore, the Council fulfilled its duty under s.5A.”

So it all depends on your definition of “demonstrates”.

Section 5A means BCC cannot legally close a children’s centre unless it can demonstrate that the outcomes for children, particularly the most disadvantaged, would not be adversely affected.

Does this mean, as the dictionary says, BCC should demonstrate this by “clearly showing the truth by giving proof or evidence”?

Or does it mean BCC can demonstrate this by scattering references to the legal duty and bland assertions amongst its BCC documents? Do these bits and pieces discharge BCC’s legal duty under Section 5A?

Well the judge decided it did.

A second complaint was that the consultation was unfair.

The barrister for the mother argued, amongst other things, that the consultation failed to provide sufficient information to enable consultees to respond to the consultation intelligently - indeed it was not even immediately clear that BCC’s preferred option involved closing down any children’s centres.

The judge pointed out that page 11 of the consultation document spelt out the proposed closures. And question 16 and 17 of the accompanying questionnaire explictly referred to the fact that under two of BCC’s options, including its preferred option, some of the children’s centre buildings would be closed.

She concluded that in her judgement “it would have been clear to any reasonable person reading the consultation documents that 2 of the 3 proposals being consulted on would involve the closure of some (or all) children’s centres in Buckinghamshire and that the other proposal being consulted on would involve a significant reduction in the services provided by the 35 existing children’s centres. It would also have been clear to the consultees how the Council proposed to meet the needs of all families with children under 5 as part of the overall restructuring”.

So, according to the judge, any parent struggling to cope with pre-school children who didn’t get round to reading page 11 of the consultation document or questions 16 and 17 of the questionnaire and didn’t cotton on to the fact that BCC proposed to close 19 children’s centres (and understand why) is - well just unreasonable.

So now you know.

Crawling up the stairs at the Royal Courts of Justice

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21 July 2019

I went to the Royal Courts of Justice a few weeks ago.  I went to hear the case taken by a mother against Bucks County Council about its proposals to close 19 Children’s Centres. The mother didn’t win; the case may go to appeal.

I will blog about the decision later but this blog is about another mother who also went to the Royal Courts of Justice to hear the case. I will call her Mary.

Mary is disabled. She can only walk short distances and that with the help of a zimmer frame on wheels. She cannot walk up stairs.

The case was to be heard in a courtroom on the first floor and there was no lift. Apparently it is usually possible to use a lift in another building with a passage to the upper floors of the Royal Courts. However, that is a long walk for a disabled person – and in any case the lift had broken down.

So Mary had to crawl up the stairs.

She had to crawl up the stairs with members of the public and lawyers passing her on either side while someone carried her zimmer frame.

I spoke to Mary afterwards while we were waiting for the case to start. This is the sort of thing that happens, she said, and you just have to get on with it.

But I was shocked and distressed. It is disgraceful that someone has to crawl up the stairs to hear justice being done in a case that affects them.

I was also brought up short.

I’ve had quite a lot of personal abuse in the past months. It’s the sort of thing that happens to people when they ask questions of those who hold power. So I decided to take a break.

But my problems are nothing compared to the difficulties Mary faces. And Mary can’t take a break.

Thank you Mary for your bravery and fortitude, and for putting things into perspective for me.

I’m just going to get on with it. 

BCC taken to court on closures of Children’s Centres

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4 June 2019

A couple of weeks ago, I learnt that Bucks County Council was going to be taken to court about its proposals to close 19 Children’s Centres. The case is to be heard on 13 June at the Royal Courts of Justice in London.

 

Good, I thought.

And I decided to see what BCC was saying about the case and looked on its website.

Nothing. Zilch. Not a dicky bird about the case. Nothing to indicate the slightest hitch to the closures.

There was nothing when I searched under “Children’s Centres”.

On the contrary, according to BCC, everything was going swimmingly. Everything was in hand for a smooth change to the amazing new service on 2 September when the 19 Children’s Centres close and BCC cuts the budget by millions of pounds.

There was nothing about the court case under “News Items”.

On the contrary, according to BCC, all the news is good.

For example, Transport for Buck’s road surfacing programme is off to a good start with a budget of £15 million. (The reality is that £15 million is no more than TfB has had for years for road surfacing before BCC cut its budget; it is not enough to fill in the existing potholes let alone improve our roads.)

And, for example, BCC says it is going to leave a strong financial legacy to the new unitary council and will be building up its reserves next year. (The reality is that the new unitary council will inherit huge debts from the profligate BCC and grab large reserves from the more prudent district councils.)

And, according to BCC, it has won an amazing number of awards for its work this year.

But nothing about legal proceedings against BCC about the Children’s Centres.

Nothing about the case which argues that the 19 closures would breach the Childcare Act 2006 and the Equality Act 2010.

If you want to know about the legal proceedings, you need to turn to the local press and the local campaign group, Save Buckinghamshire Children’s Centres (links below).

Coincidentally, the Institute for Fiscal Studies published its research on Children’s Centres today. It concluded that Children’s Centres, originally set up by the last Labour Government as Sure Start, delivered major health benefits to children in deprived areas, saving the NHS millions of pounds and reducing health inequality.

BCC might like to read and learn from the report (link below). But I bet, it won’t – because the evidence doesn’t support its closures.

But good luck to the brave mother who is taking BCC to court. I hope she wins.

https://www.bucksherald.co.uk/news/people/human-rights-lawyers-take-buckinghamshire-county-council-to-court-over-children-centre-closures

https://www.bucksfreepress.co.uk/news/17674793.legal-challenge-launched-over-controversial-plans-to-close-bucks-children-centres/

https://www.theguardian.com/business/institute-for-fiscal-studies

 

How can closing 19 Children Centres and cutting the budget by £3 million improve early help? It’s cloud cuckoo land again.

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4 March 2019

This morning the Cabinet of Bucks County Council agreed to close 19 of the 35 Children’s Centres in Bucks, to convert the remaining 16 Children’s Centres to Family Hubs and to cut about £3 million/year from the early help budget.

According to Martin Tett, the Leader of Bucks County Council, the changes were necessary and urgent.

He said BCC is under financial pressure - or to put it another way, BCC is bust, spending more than its budget and heavily in debt.

He also said the existing way of intervening to help children and their families is not effective; too many children are receiving help too late. Or as OFSTED pointed out if only BCC provided the right help early, it wouldn’t have a massive problem on its hands further down the line.

And BCC does have a massive problem - a 53% increase in children in need; a 160% increase in the number of children subject to a child protection plan; and a 14% increase in the number of looked after children.

So I can see why BCC has do something – its current services are failing.

But surely the answer to the problem is to put more resource into early help and build on the strengths of the Children’s Centres?

How is closing 19 Children’s Centres and cutting the budget by £3 million going to make intervention more effective, particularly for pre-school children?

I can’t find anything in the Cabinet papers (all 170 pages of them) which explains how this will happen nor did I hear any explanation during the Cabinet discussion.

Cabinet members all agreed it was right that resources should be concentrated on the very few children who needed it most.

No one pointed out that there are now 4.1 million children living in poverty in the UK (that’s 1 in 4 children). The proportion is lower in Bucks as we are a prosperous county. However, there are still nearly 19,000 children in Bucks living in poverty. So there are a lot of children and families out there who need help.

And no-one asked the question I keep asking – how is BCC going to identify the allegedly small number of pre-school children most in need? I have never got an answer.

It’s cloud cuckoo land again.

It’s called Early Help for a reason

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30 October 2018

This is an e-mail I sent to Steve Baker, MP in response to his article in the Bucks Free Press last week.

 

Dear Mr Baker

I read your article in the Bucks Free Press on 26 October in which you set out your commitment to the changes proposed by Bucks County Council for Early Help Services. You also urged on everyone “a spirit of civility” to treat others as we would like to be treated.

I also watched your video in which you stressed repeatedly the need for early help to be targeted at those identified as most in need. You also challenged campaigners to engage constructively with the County Council.

As one of those campaigners, I accept your challenge.

I have already written to Councillor Whyte, the responsible Cabinet member on BCC, in response to the consultation on Early Help Services and have put my response on my blogsite (http://lindaderrick.simplesite.com/432587249). You will see it is very positive.

I thanked Councillor Whyte for consulting this time in a way which is far more transparent and honest than previous consultations.

I also thanked him for addressing the concerns of campaigners put to him in the last consultation. We now have:

- a better vision for Early Help Services;

- a recognition that the services are fragmented and overlapping;

- clarity on what services are covered;

- an options appraisal (although not costed);

- a risk assessment;

- a recognition that there would be efficiencies if some work was brought back in-house;

- an explanation of the legal duties on BCC;

- reports of substantive research; and

- an ending to BCC’s suggestion that confidential discussions with vulnerable children and young people could be held in public places.

The trouble is – and you didn’t mention this – that the budget for Early Help Services has already been cut by 30% and now BCC propose to cut by another 30%. So I fail to see how BCC can improve its services when it is cutting its budget by 50% when demand is sharply rising.

You and Councillor Whyte keep saying it can all be done by targeting those most in need. There are two problems with this approach.

First, the whole point about Early Help Services is to identify problems, dare I say, early - and then sort them, not wait until the child is “most in need” or what I would call “in a crisis”.

In fact Councillor Whyte’s and your description of Early Help Services isn’t an early help service at all – it is crisis management, which is what Children’s Services is meant to provide.

Second, how is BCC going to identify pre-school children who are most in need of help?

The Children’s Centres are based on a philosophy that everyone with a pre-school child can drop in and get help and support. There is no stigma attached and support can be given by staff and other parents before problems escalate into a crisis.

It might be a parent who feels isolated and depressed and needs someone to talk to. It might be help with breastfeeding. It might be worries about a toddler who doesn’t seem to be developing as well as they should. Or a family which is malnourished – or overweight. Or a family having money problems.

So it is nonsense to criticise the Centres because only 5% of families going to Children’s Centres met BCC’s criteria for help. BCC’s criteria only includes children in crisis.

If Children’s Centres are successful, they will pick up problems and deal with them before they became acute. If they do, none of them would then figure in BCC’s statistics. This is in fact a measure of the Centres’ success.

So back to my question - how is BCC going to identify pre-school children most in need without the Children’s Centres? I know there will be family hubs in some of the more deprived areas in Bucks but apparently these would be for children already identified as most in need.

I would very much like to engage with BCC constructively on this question, which I have already put to Councillor Whyte, as well as other issues covered by the consultation. But I have had no invitation. Indeed I have had no response from Councillor Whyte. I will see how much debate there is at the open meeting in Wycombe on 12 November.

I should also point out that none of the changes to the consultation would have happened without the threat of legal action against BCC.

Moreover, Councillor Whyte’s response to two other female campaigners was offensive. You might want to have a word with him.

While you are about it, you might think about the way in which you failed to engage with another female campaigner, responding with abuse. You might also think about the way you insulted your civil servants while you were a Minister and had to apologise in Parliament.

I will continue to engage constructively when I campaign. But it takes two to tango. Where is the constructive engagement from BCC and yourself?

Yours sincerely

Linda Derrick (Dr)

Early Help services need investment not cuts

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13 October 2018

I sent a letter today to Councillor Whyte in response to the consultation on Early Help services:

“Dear Councillor Whyte

You asked for comments on the latest consultation (is it the third round?) on the future of the Children’s Centres in Bucks.

First, thank you for consulting this time in a way which is far more transparent and honest. It really helps.

You have provided a consultation paper, a cabinet paper and seven appendices. You have offered three options; Bucks County Council prefers Option B which is to close 21 of the 35 Children’s Centres, to merge the preventive help it gives to people up to the age of 19, and to cut the budget by £3.1 million.

I have read all the papers (some more thoroughly than others) and concluded that none of the options will provide an adequate service for early help to children and young people.

I looked first to see if you had addressed the concerns that I and many others raised with you in our letter of 18 September last year. We made it clear we opposed the closures of all 35 Children’s centres which you then proposed.

I can see that you have addressed many of our concerns. You have rewritten BCC’s vision for early help; your draft strategy now emphasises supporting vulnerable children and families rather than expecting them to pull themselves up by their own shoelaces. That’s good.

You have recognised that the services are fragmented and overlapping. You have clarified which services are covered by your proposals. You have provided an options appraisal (although not a costed appraisal). And that appraisal recognises that there would be efficiencies if the contracts for the Children’s Centres and Connexions were ended and the work brought back in house.

You have provided an assessment of the risks of implementing all the options. You have spelt out the legal duties on BCC relevant to the proposals.

You have stopped suggesting that confidential discussions with vulnerable children and young people could be held in public places. And you have provided reports of substantive research (albeit the sample size of the pre-consultation research is tiny). Thank you for this.

However, this leaves me with the crux of the problem – money.

As we said last year, it really is all about money. You say that the budget for all the services within scope is about £9.5 million and you, as budget holder, are required by the Council to reduce the budget by £3.1 million. That’s a reduction of one third.

What you don’t mention is that these services have already had their budgets cut drastically – the Youth Service by about 50% and Children’s Centres by about 25%.

The consultation papers imply that all of the services in scope will take a share of the cuts. This means that since austerity hit, the Children’s Centres will have seen a 50% cut in the budget and other services perhaps more.

At the same time, as the consultation paper says, the population of Bucks is rising and the proportion of children is increasing. And there has been a drastic increase in the number of children in need of crisis intervention.

What you don’t do is make the connection. Austerity is causing hardship and stress to more and more children and Universal Credit will make it worse. More and more children are in need of support. The preventive services are drastically cut. So more and more children are in crisis – and more and more resources go into crisis management.

So no, I can’t agree to any of the options, all of which cut preventive services still more.

BCC should join the increasing chorus of councils and MPs (many of them Conservatives) calling loudly and publicly for austerity to stop. And join the chorus for funding from the Government to be re-instated to provide at least adequate social services for vulnerable children, young people and adults.

I should add that if BCC does proceed with Option B, you still need to address three major concerns flagged up by the research

- Accessibility. It is just those people who you want to target who will find it difficult to get to a Children’s Centre if it isn’t within easy reach by foot or bus. Residents interviewed in the research strongly recommended that support should be given to people without transport or who would find travelling to a centre difficult (for example if they had mobility problems or had to cope with children with pushchairs and bags).

The same residents made it clear that much of the benefit of the Children’s Centres was being able to drop into a relaxed and informal environment where they could chat and build networks with their peers with whom they could share parenting concerns and advice.

- Targeting. The papers make much of the need of targeting in order to use resources cost effectively. However, residents thought that universal services to 0-5 years old helped identify people who would benefit from further support and who might otherwise fall through the cracks. The consultative document is silent on the balance between universal and targeted services and how targeting would be done for pre-school children.

- Safety. Residents were concerned at proposals which might see help and support given to teenagers alongside toddlers and young children. Some of the teenagers might have problems of drug addiction, or anti-social behaviour or crime, or mental health problems which might raise safety issues for the young children.

So in sum, it is still all about money.

BCC needs to invest in preventive services for children and young people. This investment would save money.

What you can’t do is provide an adequate early prevention service for children and young people by cutting the budgets by 50% when the population is rising, demand is ever increasing, and austerity is still with us.

You just can’t do it, whichever option you go for.

Yours sincerely

Linda Derrick”

Is Councillor Whyte living in cloud cuckoo land?

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15 September 2018

Last Tuesday at Bucks County Council’s Select Committee, Councillor Warren Whyte was asked why Children’s Services had gone over budget by £1.9 million at the end of the first quarter of the year. 

Councillor Whyte blamed the overspend on the delay in launching BCC’s new early help scheme.  Warren Whyte said the scheme would improve early intervention for children and families in need and provide £1.5 million in savings.  

I won’t go into the reasons for the delay – which are all self-inflicted.   I just want to pause and wonder whether Councillor Whyte really believes what he is saying.  Or does he know he is talking nonsense and living in cloud cuckoo land.   

 

Because in the real world these are not £1.5 million in savings – they are cuts.  In the real world, his early help scheme is not going to deliver an improvement in early intervention.  He has provided no evidence to show he can cut £1.5 million from the budget, close 35 Children’s Centres and improve early intervention.   

Out in the real world, other Councils are having to make cuts.  Conservative-run Somerset County Council for example has just made £25 million of cuts including services for vulnerable families.  But they didn’t try to defend the cuts by pretending they were savings and would improve services. 

The Conservative Leader of the Council said they were making cuts and he had had sleepless nights about their impact on the most vulnerable people in the county.  He said the funding model for local authorities was broken and he felt abandoned by the Government; the Council was facing the sharp end of austerity.

Now Conservative Councillors on Somerset County Council, like Conservative Councillors on BCC, brought it on themselves as members of the Conservative party and former strong advocates of austerity.  Their local Conservative MP is also scathing about the Council’s financial record. 

But at least Somerset County Council aren’t pretending anymore that austerity is working and that cuts are good for us. 

It’s a pity Warren Whyte can’t do the same.    

 

I know why Councillor Whyte has time to tweet as “Whiplash” - his big red car

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16 August 2018  

There has been a lot of comment in the local press recently about Councillor Warren Whyte twitting as his car – a red Tesla which he calls “Whiplash”.  Well, each to his own enjoyment I thought. 

However, people asked how he had time to tweet when he’s in charge of Bucks County Councils’ failing Children’s Services; surely getting children’s social services up to a good standard ought to be his first priority.   

Well I can now answer that question. 

You see, he’s no longer in charge of BCC’s Children’s Services – Hampshire County Council is.   So he’s got all the time in the world.

And here’s how I know.

Whiplash

I wanted to find out what was happening to BCC’s proposals to close all the Children’s Centres in Bucks.

I already knew BCC had decided it wasn’t competent enough to consult residents itself; Councillor Whyte has already tried two consultations and both of these had failed.   BCC are now paying £50,000 to consultants to do the job.     

But I thought I would see what John Coughlan, the Commissioner for Children’s Services in Bucks, had to say about the proposals to close the Children’s Centres and cut BCC’s early help services. 

Mr Coughlan, who is also the Chief Executive of Hampshire County Council, published a report in July on BCC’s Children’s Services.   He had been appointed to do this by the Department of Education because BCC had since 2014 “failed systematically and persistently in its delivery of children’s social care services” and the service was still “inadequate overall and for all key judgements”. 

It was odd but, according to BCC’s press release and much of the local press, Mr Coughlan’s report was encouraging:

-        There was still more to be done but the Council was on the right path. 

-        Improvements were well underway and the service was working hard to improve outcomes although it would take time to make all the changes needed.

-        There was no valid reason for the introduction of an alternative delivery model in Buckinghamshire and BCC retained its Children’s Services functions.

-        Any splitting up of the county into two unitaries would not be positive for Children's Services.

-        Political and managerial leadership within BCC was strong.

However, the report itself paints a somewhat different picture.   To begin with the report says BCC only started on the right path this year; progress since the damning report in 2014 was “partial and limited in its genuine impact on performance”.    Moreover, it will take “a huge amount of work” and a minimum of three years of “sustained and determined effort” to deliver an effective Children’s Services.

Mr Coughlan warns against splitting Children’s Services but he also has “legitimate concerns” about moving to a one unitary model as advocated by BCC.  He cautiously says “it should be manageable” but points out that during such a reorganisation all staff would have to apply for new posts.  He suggests this would be damaging to the stability of children’s services, and children’s services should be protected.  

Finally, yes, Mr Coughlan did praise the leadership of BCC’s new management team – indeed this seems to be his main reason for recommending the services stay with BCC.   

However, I couldn’t see anything to suggest he thought the political leadership was strong.  Before 2014, he says it had “not been paying sufficient attention or priority to its services for vulnerable children”. 

Then when the damning 2014 Ofsted report landed on their desks, Mr Coughlan said Councillors “did what was asked  and can reasonably state at this stage that they do not know what more could have been done.”   And yet frontline staff knew that things were still not right.  They were not surprised at the second damning Ofsted report this year.

So why did the frontline staff know but not Councillors?

Tellingly, Mr Coughlan doesn’t seem to have talked to any children or their parents or any voluntary organisations.  They knew the system continued to fail – so again why didn’t Councillors know?

Disappointingly, Mr Coughlan hardly mentions the Children’s Centres - “the current local dispute ….. was not central to the exercise” and says very little about early help except it should co-ordinate better with social care services.

In the light of the report, the Department of Education issued a statutory direction to BCC. 

The Department appointed Hampshire County Council as BCC’s improvement advisors.   This means HCC chairs BCC’s Children’s Services Improvement Board and, amongst many other things, ensures that BCC implements a revised early help offer as recommended.  In fact, HCC is required to take control of so many things, I was left wondering what Councillor Whyte has to do. 

Consultants at a cost of £50,000 are going to run the consultation to close the Children’s Centres.   I have no idea how much HCC is costing BCC (I will ask) but it’s in charge of getting Children’s Services up to scratch for the next year at least.

Whatever is left for Councillor Whyte to do, he is still picking up his allowance for a cabinet member of £21,598 (in addition to the basic allowance of £11,454).

No wonder he’s got time to tweet as a Whiplash – his big red car.   

 

 

Bucks County Council wants to listen and work with residents on Children’s Centres – and it’s April Fools’ Day

1 April 2018

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Bucks County Council decided last week not to implement its decision to close all the Children’s Centres in Bucks (at least for the time being). 

And we all wonder why. 

 

Councillor Warren Whyte, the Cabinet member for Children’s Services, explained it like this:

“We recognise the strength of feeling amongst families and the local community about the changes we are proposing and want to continue to have these discussions...  I hope residents and families will feel reassured that we are listening to their concerns and want to work with them to shape the support for families going forward.”

 

However, somehow all this talk of listening and working with residents just doesn’t ring true.

Because Councillor Whyte has had all the time in the world to listen and work with residents but, up to now, hasn’t seen the necessity.

 

It was back in July last year that Councillor Whyte put out a consultation document on the website of Bucks County Council about his new Early Help proposals.    

There were no public meetings and no discussion.  He urged people to fill in the on-line questionnaire which was carefully designed to get the response BCC wanted.   For example it asked if residents wanted a service for children which provided help before real problems occurred.  Or a service which had one point of contact.  Or a service which reached out to the community.  Who could answer no?   

Unfortunately, the consultation document forgot to mention that BCC planned to close all the Children’s Centres in Bucks and to make cuts in the budget of over £3 million.    

However, a lot of people noticed this omission and, by last September, more than 2000 people had responded, many in anger and confusion. 

So in October, Councillor Whyte extended the deadline for comment.  He didn’t explain why; he just announced it to BCC’s Select Committee.  The Committee didn’t ask him for his reasons.  They don’t like asking embarrassing questions like that.  In fact they didn’t like to ask any embarrassing questions about the closure of all the Children’s Centres.    

Rather quietly Councillor Whyte also put a new consultation document on BCC’s website, this time making it clear that all 35 Children’s Centres would be closed.  Perhaps someone had told him he needed to tell people about the closures if the consultation was to have any validity.

But still no public meetings were held, no listening or offers to work together to shape the proposals.  Apparently Councillor Whyte knew what was best. 

The proposals went to Cabinet in January amidst protests across Bucks.  Did BCC’s Cabinet suggest then that Councillor Whyte ought to listen and work with others?   No. they didn’t.  In fact, no-one on the Cabinet asked him a single question; they voted unanimously for the proposals. 

It was only at this point – after the decisions - that some public meetings took place.  Even then, the meetings weren’t about the rationale for the closures or the shape of the new programme.  No, the consultations were about the future of the buildings after the Children’s Centres closed. 

 

And now, out the blue, the closures are on hold because Councillor Whyte wants to listen and work with others. 

Well he could have done that before or during the first consultation last July.  Or during the second consultation last October.  Or during the public meetings last month (where he was conspicuous by his absence). 

So this stuff about wanting to listen and work with others – it’s not the real reason is it?

What’s suddenly happened to change BCC’s mind? 

Well the one new factor is the arrival in Bucks of the Commissioner appointed by the Department of Education.  It’s his job to advise Ministers as to whether BCC is competent to carry on running a Children’s Service. 

BCC hasn’t announced his arrival (well they wouldn’t, would they) but I understand he has arrived.    

Now you can bet that BCC wants to retain its Children’s Services.  It’s bad enough for BCC’s reputation having its Children’s Services assessed as inadequate for over three years.  It would be so much worse being assessed as incompetent to run a Children’s Service at all. 

So you can imagine BCC are out to do everything it can to impress the Commissioner.  Perhaps he has asked what steps BCC took to publicly discuss its proposals to close the Children’s Centres.   Or what steps to listen and work with others to shape the proposals.   Perhaps he suggested it was never too late.

Perhaps he pointed out that the Children’s Services might be taken away from BCC and given to another organization.  In this case, that other organisation might want to keep the Children’s Centres.  So perhaps BCC ought to wait.      

We may never know what he has said.  Or what prompted BCC to put everything on hold.  However, one thing I do know – it was not any wish to listen and work with others.  Why would BCC break the habits of a lifetime?

 

 

Councillor Warren Whyte’s response to criticism from (another) woman. Has he got a problem?

25 February 2018   

A few weeks ago, Bucks County Council decided to close all of its 35 Children’s Centres and make cuts of over £3 million to the support it provides for vulnerable children and young people. 

A lot of people protested about the cuts, including all the opposition parties and hundreds of parents.  

However, curiously, there has been very little public criticism - or even comment - from the charities who are currently doing the work.  I have asked in a number of my blogs why they haven’t come forward. 

Are the charities keeping quiet because they think the proposals to cut the services are good news?  Or perhaps because they don’t care?  Or maybe it’s because they are afraid to speak out for fear of losing future funding? 

Well, now we know what happens when a charity does speak out against BCC – and you can make your own mind up.  

Last Wednesday, Margot, a coordinator for YC2, a charity that supports young carers, had her views about the proposed cuts to her charity published in the Bucks Herald.    The article is at:

https://www.bucksherald.co.uk/news/vulnerable-children-discarded-by-bcc-says-campaigner-1-8389843

That afternoon, Margot had four e-mails from Councillor Whyte, BCC’s Cabinet Member for Children’s Services. Details and texts of the e-mails are below.

Now it takes a lot of courage for someone to do what Margot has done.  She has asked questions, challenged the evidence for Councillor Whyte’s proposals and put her views to BCC’s Select Committee last October.  She doesn’t have full-time experienced staff providing her with briefing like Councillor Whyte has; she is a volunteer.

As far as she knew, none of that challenge had had any effect; Councillor Whyte said at the Select Committee that YC2 would have to take a “proportionate share” of the cuts BCC was making to vulnerable children and young people.    

Since then, Margot has been writing to Councillor Whyte asking what “proportionate share” meant and how YC2 would be consulted.  He didn’t respond.  He didn’t tell her that BCC had changed its mind and the funding for YC2 would not be cut.   

So she went public with her concerns.     

If Councillor Whyte had communicated with her professionally, he won’t have got the adverse publicity.  And yet he blames her for not talking to him. 

Margot was fully entitled to go to the press with her concerns.  She was doing it for the sake of the vulnerable young people she cares about.    She does not need to explain herself to Councillor Whyte before she expresses an opinion.  

And Councillor Whyte is mistaken in thinking it is all about him – it is actually all about the vulnerable children and young people who BCC is consistently failing to protect and support.

So congratulations to Margot who has fought publicly for her young people and succeeded in maintaining the funding for YC2.

However, Councillor Whyte’s response to the publicity is unacceptable – threatening, bullying and completely unprofessional.  

Unfortunately this seems to be his normal response to challenge.  He was dismissive of my concerns about the safeguarding of young people, he was abusive to one of my female colleagues, and now he is bullying another woman.

You do wonder if he has a problem? 

 

The four e-mails sent by Councillor Whyte on 21 February

1.     Sent at 14.24

“Dear Margo

I’m disappointed to hear that you’ve written a letter of concern direct to the paper rather than contact me. 

As your local councillor, and relevant cabinet member, I’m sorry that you did not feel able to speak to me. I could have updated you on all the positive stuff I’ve been doing for Young Carers behind the scenes, and I understand that is close to be concluded for 2018/19. If this is not the case, I clearly would like to know what the problems are. 

I have said on more than one occasion that I am here to help. We may not always agree, but to exclude me and then go straight to the press is not helpful in building that positive relationship with the charity and your service. 

I have known CCNB for a long time, and directed my community leaders fund several times to YC2 and the hospital car scheme too. I am not sure why you didn’t take the opportunity to raise your concerns with me. I would like to reassure you that I’m still here to help. 

Yours sincerely, Warren”

2.     Sent at 14.54

Margo

I've just been sent the text [of the article in the Bucks Herald] and I read this: Margo says that some of the most vulnerable children in Buckinghamshire have been ‘discarded’ by Cabinet Member Warren Whyte.

That is outrageous! How on earth have I discarded anyone? Please call me at your convenience (today please) 01280 820531 so that you can help explain to me what I've done to deserve such a claim.

I am home all afternoon and evening (thought struggling with a cold), but I would like to better understand what your concerns are before I have to respond publicly to such a ridiculous claim.

Warren

3.     Sent at 15.41

Dear Margo

Apologies for the third email of the day, but I thought you might like to see the answers to some written questions that will be issued at tomorrow's County Council meeting.

Given your quotes in today's paper, I am wondering why I have campaigned so hard on behalf of young carers. 

Regards, Warren”

4.     Sent at 16.37

A long, formal e-mail obviously drafted before Councillor Whyte had seen the article in the Bucks Herald, providing detailed justification for the cuts that he proposes to the Early Help support. 

 

Is a Commissioner for Children’s Services coming to Bucks – and can he get here fast please?

9 February 2018   

I have the following letter already prepared to send to the newly appointed Commissioner for Children’s Services:

“Dear Commissioner

Rumour has it that the Department of Education has appointed you as the Commissioner for Children’s Services in Buckinghamshire.  I don’t know who you are yet – but welcome. 

You have been appointed because Bucks County Council’s Children’s Services has been assessed for a second time as “inadequate”.  This is the worst rating OFSTED could have given.  I understand you have been appointed to ensure the standard of care for our vulnerable children improves.  Bucks County Council have failed dismally to do the job for years so I wish you well.

You might already know that BCC has decided to cut £3.3 million from the Early Help services and close all its 35 Children’s Services.  Perhaps you could ask Councillor Whyte, the Cabinet member for Children’s Services, about this as we all find it very odd.   

Children’s Services are inadequate and have been for years.  Councillor Whyte, who proposed these cuts last autumn, must have known this.   If this hadn’t dawned on him before OFSTED arrived in November, surely he would have known then that BCC wasn’t doing very well.   Perhaps he could have picked up the slightest hint?   Or the vaguest suggestion that BCC was continuing to fail its vulnerable children? 

If he had even the slightest suspicion, perhaps you could ask him why he persists with the myth that cutting £3.3 million from the Early Help services and closing the Centres would improve services. 

He can’t really believe this, can he?

Because we all know that the reason for the cuts is … well …. to make cuts.  BCC, like many other Councils, is nearly bankrupt.  Surely Councillor Whyte knows this too?   We find it sort of embarrassing that he can’t seem to accept the truth. 

Councillor Whyte keeps telling us that his plans to cut the budget by £3.3 million, close 35 Children’s Centres and bring the Early Help services together into 9 hubs was somehow recommended by OFSTED.  But this isn’t right, is it? 

Early Help is one part of Children’s Services that OFSTED actually praised.  Councillor Whyte must have got a draft in advance and the Executive Summary should have given him a clue.  It says “Children benefit from a range of early help services and receive a well-coordinated service when more than one agency is involved with them”.

Perhaps you could ask Councillor Whyte whether he has read the OFSTED report?

There are a lot of people in Bucks who don’t want the Centres closed.  There have been petitions and protests and questions and letters.  Trouble is Councillor Whyte made a complete mess of the consultation (he forgot, bless him, to mention in the first consultation that he planned to close the Children’s Centres). 

So he had to do the consultation again.  Then he complained that the petitions were confused and the protesters didn’t understand what he was planning.  He called them “disingenuous” as they tried to make sense of his shambles. 

Perhaps you could check that Councillor Whyte understands that it is his responsibility to explain things? And that residents really shouldn’t have to struggle to get to grips with such important changes?   

BCC decided last week not to scrutinise Councillor Whyte’s plans.  Perhaps when you think about it, this wasn’t a bad thing.  Because your arrival will sort of throw everything up in the air, won’t it?   It would be really good if you could look at these plans, including the evidence which has been put forward to support them.  Because someone outside BCC needs to do this.    

Actually when I say plans, they’re not so much plans as aspirations.  35 Children Centres will magically turn into 9 hubs without so much as a timescale or an implementation plan.  Charities who currently run different parts of the Early Help services are waiting to find out when their contracts will be terminated, how the work will be transferred and what will happen to the children and the staff who currently look after them.    Could you find out?     

For example, the charities who provide support to young carers have been told their budgets will be cut “proportionately”.  What does this mean?   As the Early Help services are being cut by 30%, does this mean the services for carers are to be cut by 30%?   When will the cut fall?  And what happens to the 30% of young carers who desperately need this support and now won’t get it.   

So welcome to Bucks.  I don’t know when you are coming but it would be good if you could get here soon.  Because the whole thing is a shambles and needs sorting out.   Perhaps you could you ask BCC to put the closure of the Children’s centre on hold until you get here? 

By the way, does Councillor Whyte know you are coming?  Because he doesn’t seem to have mentioned it yet.

Yours sincerely

Linda Derrick  

Follow me @LindaDerrick1

 

Councillor Whyte misleading residents on Children’s Centres

Cross-party protest with Councillors Wassell, Ditta, Lambert, Hussain and Farrow

12 January 2018   

I went to the Cabinet Committee meeting on Monday where the Cabinet voted unanimously to close all 35 Children’s Centres in Bucks. 

I haven’t blogged earlier partly because the press, radio and TV have covered what is happening pretty comprehensively (see links below).  One of my colleagues has also provided an excellent critique of the proposals (also below) and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to understand why so many people have serious concerns about these proposals. 

I am just going to pick up on one thing Councillor Whyte said at the Cabinet meeting.  Councillor Whyte is the Bucks County Councillor responsible for the proposals.    

During Members’ Questions, Councillor Whyte said BCC was “not closing all 35 Children’s Centres”; he said Cabinet was being asked to agree to review the continuing use of the sites. (At 22 and 26 minutes if you want to check on the webcast)

And I thought this is just….   well the polite term is misleading. 

Because BCC is planning to close all 35 Children’s centres.  This is what the final consultative document put out by Councillor Whyte said.  Indeed the first consultative document was criticised for being confusing on this point.  So the final consultative document listed all 35 Centres and said they would be replaced by nine Early Help bases.        

Now I think that is pretty clear.    35 Children’s Centre will be replaced.  They will go.  They will close. 

When and if Councillor Whyte launches his “New Model” for Early Help, the funding for the 35 Children’s Centres in Bucks will stop.  The contracts between BCC and the organisations currently providing the services in the Children’s Centres will be terminated.   The staff and facilities of the Children’s Centres will no longer be in the buildings.    

No-one imagined or suggested for a moment that, when and if Councillor Whyte launches his “New Model”, the doors to the buildings currently occupied by the Children’s Centres will be locked and padlocked.   Not least because not all the buildings belong to BCC.

I think residents can understand the difference.

So can the press.   

The Bucks Free Press’s front page heading is “Protest ‘ignored’ as centres axed” and it draws a clear distinction between the Children’s Centres being axed and the discussions about the buildings the Centres currently occupy. 

The Bucks Herald is also clear - “Council leaders have voted to revamp children's services in Buckinghamshire, and close 35 children's centres across the county.

So why is Councillor Whyte trying to muddy the waters?  

Has he changed his mind about closing all 35 centres and doesn’t want to admit it?   Or does he just want to fudge the issue, give him himself some cover when interviewed by the media, and hope everything will go away for six months? 

The good news is that the proposals have been called in by opposition county Councillors – and will have to be scrutinised again.

The bad news is that, because of the inept and shambolic way Councillor Whyte is carrying out these changes, staff are already resigning from the Children’s Centres and expertise and experience are being lost. 

https://www.bucksherald.co.uk/news/35-children-s-centres-to-close-as-council-votes-through-children-s-services-shake-up-1-8320370

http://www.bucksfreepress.co.uk/news/15814757.35__vital__children_s_centres_across_Bucks_to_be_replaced_after_new_plans_given_the_green_light/

https://ambitionpolitics.blogspot.co.uk/2018/01/green-light-or-flashing-red-light-for.html

 

Demonstration tomorrow on early help - here's why

5 January 2018   

On Monday, the eight Conservative Councillors on the Cabinet of Bucks County Council will be asked by Councillor Whyte, the cabinet member for Children’s Services, to cut the budget for early help to children and young people by over £3 million and to agree the closure of all 35 Children’s Centres in Bucks.   

Many people in Bucks (including myself) have protested about the closures and will do so again on Saturday (10.30 at All Saints Parish Church, Wycombe or Burnham Children’s Centre)

BCC deferred their decision after our last protest but I suspect this time they won’t take a blind bit of notice.   According to their plans, the Centres will then close this June. 

Nevertheless, we will be protesting to show there are people in Bucks who care what is happening.   It is about solidarity with the families, children and young people who will be adversely affected by these plans. 

BCC will put out a statement after the Cabinet meeting explaining that the closures will improve services to children and young people and that it will all be for the best.   But this is what the Cabinet papers actually say

-        The demand for children’s social care has increased substantially over the past 5 years and more than would be expected due to the population increase.  Demand is projected to continue to rise.

-        The causes of this increasing demand are domestic violence and abuse, behavioural problems in children, mental health, relational breakdown/parental conflict and poverty and worklessness.

-        The proposed solution should focus on root causes, should target those most in need and should adopt a whole family approach. 

We also know that BCC’s Children’s Services was assessed as inadequate in 2014 by OFSTED and each of their monitoring visits since then have called for improvements to Children’s Services.   

Moreover, we know that the highest priority given by residents during the consultation on BCC’s budget was for Children’s Services.  

Faced with this information, what would you expect BCC to do? 

The obvious answer would be for BCC to increase the resource devoted to Children’s Services. 

But no, BCC’s solution to the problem is to cut the budget for early help to children and young people yet again and this time by over £3 million (over 30%).  And close all 35 children’s centres.   This, in some kind of magic way, will improve services according to Councillor Whyte.

BCC might also call on the Government to reverse its policies on austerity – the root cause of much of the increased demand.   But I can’t see that happening either.   

 

I asked five questions about the proposals in a previous blog and here are the answers, such as they are, in the Cabinet papers:

1.     Where is the robust evidence base for the proposals?

The Cabinet paper cites other councils complimented by OFSTED for having strong early help services.  Well, we would all like BCC to have strong early help services too.  Trouble is the Cabinet paper does not say whether these other Councils managed to have strong early help services while cutting their budgets by 30% and closing all their children’s centres.    

The Cabinet paper also cites the “Troubled families” programme as evidence, though it says the programme was never evaluated.  Trouble is the programme was evaluated (although the report was suppressed by David Cameron).   The report concluded the programme had no discernible impact on a range of measures for the families including unemployment, truancy or criminality.   

2.     Exactly how is the budget going to be cut?

No idea.  BCC will get savings because it will no longer need most of the buildings but those savings are not included in the current cuts.  So I can only conclude that BCC will terminate the contracts with the charities but not put all this money back into in-house services. 

3.     How is BCC going to ensure it is not breaching for example the Human Rights Act 1998, the Data Protection Act 1998, the Children Act 1989 and the common law duty of confidentiality in having discussions with children and young people in public venues like cafes?

The Cabinet paper says “this is what some families prefer and often young people also prefer less formal venues.” 

This may well be true but what about the families and young people who prefer not to discuss sensitive and very personal issues in a public venue.   What about a teenager who wants to discuss how to cope with a mother with mental health or addiction problems in private?  Or a young child who wants to talk about sexual abuse by a parent?   And how does this comply with the law?

4.     Where is the Equalities Impact Assessment?

The Cabinet paper contains the EIA.  It is 25 pages long.  In summary, it say the changes will have a positive impact on children, young people and their families, children and parents with a disability, pregnant women, and children and parents from ethnic minorities.  So that’s alright then.  

5.     Where are the detailed plans for moving to the new arrangements? 

Detailed plans are remitted to Councillor Whyte.  

He’s got 6 months to sort everything out.

 

Councillor Whyte - magician or Emperor in the all-together

 
 

16 November 2017

I went to the protest on Monday against the closure of 35 children’s centres in Bucks.  The protest was covered by BBC South, local radio, the Bucks Free Press and the Bucks Herald  - see

https://www.facebook.com/groups/savebuckinghamshireschildrenscentres/permalink/1896698437314877/

http://www.bucksfreepress.co.uk/news/15660800.PICTURES__Campaigners_come_together_to_protest_against_closure_of__invaluable__children_s_centres/

http://www.bucksherald.co.uk/news/threat-of-children-s-centre-closures-sparks-protests-in-aylesbury-1-8244151

 

Councillor Whyte, the Cabinet member on Bucks County Council who is responsible for the proposals to close the centres, is still trying to pretend that the rationale for the proposals is to improve services.   Somehow, magically, he can cut £3.3 million from the budget (which has already been cut by £1.4 million this year) and services will be improved.    Is he really a brilliant magician?  Or an Emperor posturing in the all- together hoping he won’t get exposed?   

Councillor Whyte might have a word with his boss at county hall – Councillor Tett.  You see Councillor Tett is on the executive of the Local Government Association and the LGA said yesterday  

….”the services that many children and families across the country desperately rely on are at serious risk due to rising demand and unprecedented funding pressures. Simply put, children’s services are at a tipping point. Government has to take immediate action and provide the funding we need to deliver the support our children deserve.”

In other words, it is all about money – or the lack of it.

Presumably Councillor Tett agrees with this statement from the LGA.  Presumably he also agrees with a letter the LGA sent today to the Government jointly with the Chief Executives of Barnado’s, Action for Children, The Children’s Society and the National Bureau for Children. 

https://www.local.gov.uk/about/campaigns/bright-futures/close-childrens-services-funding-gap

The letter says “Children’s social care is being pushed to breaking point, with an unprecedented surge in demand leaving services across the public, voluntary and community sector struggling to cope.”  It adds that the funding gap will reach at least £2 billion by 2020.

7 years of austerity by consecutive Conservative Governments has put millions of children in poverty and created a surge in demand for children’s social care.  Rather than respond to this problem it has created, the Conservative Government – and Bucks County Council - is slashing childrens’ social care.    

7 years of Conservative austerity means there is not enough money to safeguard and look after our most vulnerable children and young people in Bucks

The omnishambles of BCC’s proposals for “Early Help”

4 November 2017

 BCC’s Select Committee covering Children’s Services met on 17 October.  It should have scrutinised the proposals for re-organising the “Early Help” services for children and young people.   These proposals will affect thousands of vulnerable children and young people and their parents and include cuts of at least £3.3 million.   

 However, BCC’s Select Committees – mainly composed of Conservative Councillors- consistently fail to scrutinise the work of the Conservative- dominated Council and this was no exception.

 If you want to watch Councillor Whyte, the cabinet member responsible for the proposals, explain how wonderful they are and see the Select Committee give him an easy ride, the link is 

 https://buckscc.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/299628

I must say here is a man who enjoys the sound of his own voice.  He doesn’t say very much – but he says it at length.

 Councillor Whyte told us that the consultation went so well that BCC decided to have more of it and extended the deadline.  He didn’t tell us how many of the 2000 people responding objected to the changes or what those objections were.  And no-one asked.  Pity - as that would have been helpful.

Councillor Whyte also told us that same sort of re-organisation has been done all over the country and all BCC needed to do was find out how others did it.  Easy peasy.  On the other hand, BCC has decided to delay making a decision until January.    No-one asked why the delay if everything was so going so well and everything was so easy. 

 Committee members muttered that times were difficult what with austerity and all and hoped that the savings wouldn’t affect services to children and young people.  They asked Councillor Whyte to let them know how it all turns out.    Short of buying him a pint down the pub, they couldn’t have been nicer.

 A member of the public from an organisation called YC2, which provides support to young carers in North Bucks, asked Councillor Whyte a question.  YC2 had previously met Councillor Whyte with the support of a Labour district Councillor, Robin Stuchbury, and were so successful at lobbying that Councillor Whyte agreed, out of the blue at the meeting,  to exclude young carers from the proposals.

 She asked Councillor Whyte if this exclusion means that services for young carers will continue to be delivered as currently and that all organisations providing support to young carers will be consulted on any changes. 

 Putting all the verbiage to one side, the answer is that Councillor Whyte had no idea about long term plans for the services for young carers (or is not letting on)  – and he mumbled something about support for young carers having to take a share of the cuts. 

 Did the member of the public get an opportunity to say whether she was satisfied with his response?   Well no.

Did any of the Select Committee members ask searching questions about the future of the support for young carers?  Well no. 

Did they ask for example exactly what is meant by excluding young carers from the proposals?   YC2 has been told that young carers would be “considered separately for changes and these changes would need to be aligned with those agreed in the Early Help review”.  So the organisations for young carers can now not challenge any of the proposed changes as they are not included but they will get “aligned” in any case.  That’s democracy for you with the Tories.    

 Did anyone ask for the impact assessment if cuts are made to these services?  If young carers don’t get support and can’t cope, what is it going to cost social services and the NHS in picking up the pieces?

 Did anyone ask why it is only young carers who have been taken out of the proposed changes?  Why are they “not suitable” to be included?  Are there other groups who are not suitable? 

 Is it simply that these organisations have raised objections and questioned the validity and timing of the proposals?   And there were no answers to these questions? 

 Could it even be that the Director of CarersBucks, another organisation which gives support to young carers, is on the Select Committee?  Surely not?

 

BCC propose to close Children's centres and cut the budget for children by over 3.3million

 
17  17 August 2017

 

In July, Bucks County Council put out one of its most important consultation documents to residents. 

 

On the face of it, the proposals seem reasonable and good value.  However, they are radical, based on extreme right-wing Conservative doctrine and will put vulnerable children and young people in Bucks even more at risk.

 

 The proposals need challenging by everyone who cares what happens to our children and young people.   The deadline for comment is 22 September.

 

BCC proposes to bring together all its services for children and young people (i.e. everyone from 0-19 years), and their families, into one service called the Early Help service.  The existing services to be brought under this one umbrella include

 

 Children’s Centres

 

  • Bucks Family Information Service
  • Advice and support for young people through Connexions (Adviza)
  • Early Help coordinators
  • Families First
  • Family Resilience
  • Support for children who have lived with Domestic Violence (Refuge and Outreach) (Women’s Aid)
  • Support for parents through Barnardo’s
  • Young carers support
  • Youth Services.

 

 The consultation document (link below) has all the right buzz words – prevention, targeting those most in need, reaching out and “interacting close to the families”, value for money, co-ordinated advice from one trusted source.  What’s not to like?  Sounds good doesn’t it?

 

It’s only if you read the accompanying Cabinet paper that worries start. The link to this paper is below but unfortunately since starting this blog the connection seems to have gone down. 

 

So you will have to take my word for it that BCC plans to cut the budget for these services by at least £3.3 million/year.  These proposals are a cost cutting exercise.   

 

 You will have to take my word for it that the Conservative-dominated Council is not interested in supporting children and young people.   Its vision is:-

 

 “Residents will take greater responsibility for meeting their own needs, and those of their families and their communities.  Aspiration, rather than dependency, will be valued, and everyone will play their part in the success of the County. Within this context, the Councils’ resources will be focused on enabling the conditions in which our communities can prosper.”

 

No mention here of the Council’s responsibility to provide support – it’s down to families and the communities.  It’s not about the Council providing good quality services –it’s about “enabling the conditions”. 

 

Remember we are talking here about children and young people who may be severely disabled, or with mental health problems, or with abusive or negligent parents. 

 

Gone is any thought that vulnerable children and young people are legally, or morally, entitled to help.  They and their families should apparently be ashamed of their “dependency”.  They have got to “aspire” rather than look for support. 

 

 This is not a vision I share; I find the vision despicable.

 

 The Cabinet paper goes on to propose that the Early Help service will consist of nine teams of “lead family workers supporting families where they are e.g. in their homes, in community and other settings”.  

 

 The lead family workers will no longer carry out assessments of the needs of the children or young people but will help the family to understand where they are  (I can’t give you the exact words because of the lost connection).   The lead family worker will no longer prepare a care plan to deliver the help which is required; they will help the family plan how it can reach its desired outcomes.

 

The whole thing is turned on its head.  Family workers are not there to support vulnerable children and young people – they are there to put the responsibility squarely on the family.   

 

 The patronising language only adds injury to insult; many families understand very well where they are, they just want good support to help them manage.

 

All of these discussions are now to be carried out in the children’s and young people’s homes, or in a coffee shop or in a library.

 

 Just keep this thought in mind – this is where “whole family” discussions about alcoholism or debt or crime are going to take place.  This is where teenagers are going to discuss their drug problems, or contraception or venereal disease.  This is where small children are going to discuss their disabilities or illnesses or their abusive parents.     

 

Children’s Centres are to go.  The Cabinet paper doesn’t actually say so but if there are to be no centres and the work is to be radically re-organised, then we can assume the Children’s Centres are going.

 

 According to BCC, “building based services” do not promote independence and do not “support people reaching their full potential”.  Of course, if BCC move away from “building based services”, it does not need buildings and it can sell or rent them out. 

 

 And so we get to the nub of it.  This will save BCC money – an initial £3.3 million.    

 

BCC cite two external sources in support of their new model for Early Help service.  One is a report published by the Early Intervention Foundation.  I can find no support for rejecting “building based services” in that report.

 

The other is the success of the “Troubled Families”.   However, the official evaluation of the £1.3bn government “Troubled Families” scheme concluded it had had no discernible impact on a range of measures for the families including unemployment, truancy or criminality.  The report was suppressed by David Cameron.    

 

 So the buildings will be closed, the budget will be cut and very probably most, if not all, of the work will be contracted out to the cheapest bidder who will pay their senior managers large sums of money and employ unqualified, low-paid staff. 

 

 Three years ago, OFSTED gave a damning assessment of Bucks Children’s Services.  For three years, BCC has had to increase its budget and get its act together.  OFSTED now says it is making “steady progress”. 

 

 Now there is a new Cabinet member responsible for Children’s Services, Councillor Whyte, bringing in a right-wing Conservative doctrine, and suddenly all this work is to be thrown up in the air.   BCC never learns.   

 And children and young people will pay the price.