Children’s Services Consultation

Buckinghamshire County Council is planning to reduce 35 children’s centres across the county to 9 hubs. Here is our response to the plans in the form of an open letter addressed to Councillor Warren Whyte: 


9th October 2017

Dear Councillor Whyte,

Consultation on “Improving early help services for children, young people and families”

We are writing on behalf of Chesham and Amersham Labour Party to express our opposition to the proposals published by Buckinghamshire County Council (BCC) on “Improving early help services for children, young people and families”.

We are opposed in particular to the following proposals:

– to push responsibility for supporting vulnerable children and young people even further onto the children and young people themselves and onto their families and the communities;

– to make further significant funding cuts to services for vulnerable children and young people;

– to require vulnerable children, young people and their families to meet with family workers and discuss confidential and distressing matters in public places;

– to contract out children’s services rather than keeping or bringing back the services in-house;

– to complete the changes by the unrealistic deadline of Spring 2018.

Below, we have outlined the reasons behind our opposition to these proposals, and made a number of requests, which we would like you to respond to, either in the affirmative or giving reasons for your refusal.


Our key concerns

Our opposition to these proposals stem from the following concerns:

  1. Potential breaches of BCC’s statutory duties

If the proposed changes were implemented, face-to-face meetings between family workers and their clients (children, young people and their families) would no longer be held in council premises, which would be sold off. Instead, they would be held in family homes and in public buildings such as libraries or cafes.

Many of these meetings will involve the disclosing, sharing and discussing of sensitive personal information; for example, about health and disabilities, addiction, debt, neglect and abuse. If such meetings are in public places, no parties involved can be guaranteed privacy. This is disrespectful, unprofessional and likely to cause distress to vulnerable parties. It will also compromise the ability of front line staff to fulfil their legal duty to ensure that information divulged to them is not available to unauthorized third parties.

Consequently, the proposals, if implemented, have the potential to breach human rights law, data protection legislation and other statutory frameworks with which BCC must comply. Notable examples are the Human Rights Act 1998, the Data Protection Act 1998, the Children Act 1989 and the common law duty of confidentiality.

The nature of children’s services and the demographics of Buckinghamshire mean that the impact of these proposed changes would fall disproportionately on women and ethnic minorities. Consequently, the measure would be likely to contravene Section 149 of the Equalities Act 2010. Section 149 places a statutory duty on all public sector bodies, including local government, to ensure that policies and the delivery of services do not discriminate against or otherwise disadvantage people because of their gender or race, along with seven other ‘protected’ characteristics.


  1. Inadequate timescale for planning, consultation and implementation

The timescale for implementing the proposed changes, i.e. by spring 2018, is unrealistic. If adhered to it will not allow sufficient time to ensure adequate consultation, planning and risk assessments. This would put services supporting children, young people and their families at high risk of serious failure.

Changes of this scale need to be rigorously and transparently planned and implemented.  As yet, BCC has provided little in the way of substantive details to accompany this proposed re-organisation, which will affect many thousands of vulnerable Buckinghamshire residents, while elements of the consultation documents are confusing.

The proposals do not make clear, for example, which services would be left for BCC itself to provide and which services would be contracted out. Nor does it consider how different services would be organized and coordinated. Would BCC and third parties work independently? Who would decide when cases were transferred between them?

If contracted out, which the documents seem to imply, would the nine “teams of lead family workers” be contracted out as a block or as nine separate contracts? Would the “lead family workers” be required to be qualified social workers?  Answers to such questions are vital. Without them, interested parties have little basis for forming a reasonable judgment of the proposals and whether vulnerable children would be put at risk.

Despite the unrealistic timescale, there is also no schedule for the work to be tendered, contracts signed, training carried out, and cases transferred to new staff and organisations. A recent report by the highly respected and cross-party House of Commons Education Committee highlighted, among other issues, the difficulty of finding bodies willing and able to take on the highly responsible and complex task of formulating and delivering children’s services.[1] As yet, we have seen no evidence that BCC has begun this process.

Despite assurances from your office that appropriate professional bodies and other relevant parties have been consulted, it is clear that much work needs to be done on this front.  We have been in contact with a number of Buckinghamshire organisations concerned with supporting vulnerable children, young people and their families, which should have been part of any consultation but have not been.

  1. Lack of supporting evidence for the proposals

BCC cites two external sources in support of their new delivery model. One is a report published by the Early Intervention Foundation, but we can find no support for BCC’s proposals in that report, particularly BCC’s rejection of “building based services”.

The other cited source is the “Troubled Families” scheme initiated by the Conservative-led government of 2010-15.  However, the official evaluation of this £1.3bn scheme, allegedly suppressed by the then Prime Minister David Cameron, concluded that it had had “no discernible impact” on a range of measures for the families targeted, including unemployment, truancy and criminality.

The proposal to contract out services to third party providers is not supported by any evidence that this move would lead to adequate service provision. BCC’s own troubled record on contracting out services, including being recently forced to take responsibility for Adult Social Care back in-house, suggests that contracting out is the option most likely to put vulnerable children, young people and their families at greater risk. The Education Committee’s recent report on social work quotes research suggesting that there is “no evidence base” to support shifting service provision away from the local authority and onto external providers.[2]

Given this, we are surprised and concerned that BCC appears to have given little attention to the potential benefits of ensuring that, as far as practicable, children’s services are kept in house. One major potential benefit, for example, would be the ability to provide the required service co-ordination which OFSTED noted was lacking in Buckinghamshire.


  1. Inadequate funding

Chesham and Amersham Labour is concerned that any contracted out services will not receive sufficient funding to effectively, safely and legally carry out the statutory duties proposed for them. The core rationale for the proposed changes is cutting spending on services supporting vulnerable residents, not improving or even maintaining current levels of service provision.

For example, BCC states that the new delivery model “will not operate on a drop-in basis” but restrict its initial contact with clients to a central phone number and a website. This part of the delivery model is critical, because it enables BCC to close down the Children’s Centres and other buildings currently used for these services.  The buildings can then be sold off or leased out.  (We note that the outcome of the building review will be presented in the autumn.)  Lack of building-based services is likely to discourage or even prevent large numbers of people from contacting BCC when they are in trouble, including the most vulnerable.

The proceeds from the buildings appear to be in addition to a proposed £3.3 million cut to the services when the new delivery model comes on stream.  The consultation documents do not detail where and how these cuts would be achieved. Our concern is that cost-savings will include reducing staff numbers, cutting salaries, employing fewer qualified workers and reducing ancillary services, and that bids from potential service providers will be assessed primarily on the basis of cost rather than service quality.

There is already a strong precedent for budget cuts to lead to service failure, which BCC does not appear to even acknowledge. In 2014, the leadership of BCC was warned by its then Head of Children’s Services, Sue Imbriano, that those services would be assessed as inadequate if further cuts were made to the budget. Despite this, BCC went ahead and cut £1 million from the budget; subsequently OFSTED condemned children’s services as “inadequate.”

Despite this clear evidence that cutting funding has led to significant deterioration in service provision, BCC has cut a further £1.4 million from the children’s services budget this year, making further service deterioration all but inevitable.

We are also concerned that nowhere in the consultation papers is there a cost-benefit analysis of the options of contracting out as against bringing all the work back in-house.


  1. Unreasonable expectations on vulnerable residents

BCC’s vision for the proposals is set out in paragraph 1 of the accompanying Cabinet paper:

“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.”

Chesham and Amersham Constituency Labour Party does not share this vision; at a time of great austerity in the country, when more and more children and young people are living with poverty, inadequate mental and physical health care and homelessness, we believe it is unreasonable, heartless and cruel to expect vulnerable children and young people, and their families, to take “greater responsibility for meeting their own needs”.

BCC exists to serve the people of Buckinghamshire. Vulnerable children and young people need its support more than ever, and are both legally and morally entitled to that support.  They should not be ashamed of being “dependent” and should not be required to “aspire”. It’s time for BCC to start facing up to its own responsibilities.



Our requests

In the light of the serious and legitimate concerns we have raised, we ask that you commit to providing us and any and all interested parties, in a clear, transparent and accessible way, with the following:

  • Proposals which are more detailed, substantive and evidence-based, so that interested parties have a robust evidence base from which to assess and comment on the options being put forward.
  • A fully considered and professional approach to the consultation, including actively reaching out to far more local organizations and extending the consultation deadline to July 30 2018.
  • Evidence that Buckinghamshire County Council is preparing an equalities impact assessment and consulting its Data Protection Officer and / or legal services regarding the proposed changes.

We believe that these requests are reasonable and proper, and look forward to receiving your response.

Yours sincerely,

Alexander Rhys                 Nina Dluzewska

Secretary                            Chair


Signed on behalf of Chesham and Amersham Labour Party




[1] House of Commons Education Committee, Social Work Reform: Third report of Session 2016-17, House of Commons, 13 July 2016. Available at

[2] House of Commons Education Committee, Social Work Reform: Third report of Session 2016-17, House of Commons, 13 July 2016. Available at