Council urged to keep tight control over children's services company

James Harrison

Effective scrutiny of children’s services could be put at risk if the Royal Borough goes ahead with transferring them to a new partnership.

Speaking about the proposed scheme, which is due to be debated by cabinet tonight (Thursday), councillors from the London Borough of Richmond, where community interest company Achieving for Children has been running the services since April 2014, warned about a lack of oversight following the changes.

There are also concerns about the firm's finances.

Its annual report and statement of accounts for 2015/16 said it needs to make £8m of savings over the next three years, while it also reported a trading loss of about £4m and overspends of £142,000 in 2014/15 and £16,000 in 2015/16.

Cllr Suzette Nicholson, spokesman for children and families for the council’s opposition, said that moving the department from in-house to arms-length had impacted the ability of councillors to keep an eye on the day-to-day running of services.

As well as confusion often arising over whether a particular issue should be referred to AfC or the cabinet member for children’s services, she also claimed there had been fewer opportunities to directly hold officers to account.

She added that, previously in-house services had meant it was easy for councillors to contact officers to raise concerns, that had been lost by switching to an outside company.

And Cllr Gareth Roberts, leader of the opposition in Richmond voiced similar concerns.

He said: “If it is RBWM’s decision to outsource their services to (AfC), I would urge the council to ensure they have tight control over the company both in terms of scrutiny and, above all, accountability.

“We raised our concerns about these matters in Richmond when AfC was first created and were ignored; unfortunately we now see decisions being taken over which elected members have little say and annual budget overspends running at well over a million pounds.

“I hope for Windsor and Maidenhead residents’ sake that their council exercises better control over AfC than Tory Richmond has because if properly directed I’m sure that AfC could deliver some good results for the Royal Borough.”

Despite their concerns, however, both conceded that services did seem to be well run in Richmond.

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