Northamptonshire councillors back motion to haul ‘absent’ children’s commissioner before them

The county council will contact the children's commissioner Malcolm Newsam to urge him to appear before them
The county council will contact the children's commissioner Malcolm Newsam to urge him to appear before them

Fed up councillors have decided to try and haul the government-appointed children’s commissioner before them to answer questions, after criticising his turnout at council meetings.

Malcolm Newsam was appointed by Westminster in November to look after the children’s services at Northamptonshire County Council following calls from lead commissioner Tony McArdle, and the publication of a critical Ofsted report. He has also been tasked with overseeing the transition to a new children’s trust that will replace the service when two new unitary councils are formed in 2021.

But Mr Newsam, whose salary is covered by the Department for Education, appears to have irked councillors by failing to show his face at meetings, and now they have supported a motion calling on him to report to council.

Labour councillor Jane Birch proposed the motion, but it was supported unanimously by all parties across the chamber. She said: “We don’t have the commissioner here at our meetings. He has made recommendations, a lot of which are based on the Ofsted report, but there are no actions as a result of these recommendations. And what is not mentioned are the root causes of the problems, such as a lack of early intervention.”

Speaking during the full council meeting yesterday (September 19), Conservative councillor Michael Clarke told the chamber: “I’m disappointed in the meetings that I have attended about children’s services, that there has been a notable absence of the children’s commissioner.”

And council leader Matt Golby added: “We are going to accept the motion. It’s right that we ask Mr Newsam to come to council.”

The agreed motion states: “In the light of recent serious case reviews, and taking into consideration the latest inspection report, we understand that for children’s services to improve there needs to be a return to multi-agency locality working, a focus on early help and prevention, better integration of housing and children’s services and a more effective transition from children’s to adult social care.

“Can the children’s commissioner provide the council with a programme that addresses these aims? Or, if his aims are different, can he please advise? Please can a report come to the next full council?”

Incidentally, Mr Newsam was not present at the full council meeting yesterday.

Asked whether his absence from meetings had ‘irked’ the chamber, Councillor Birch told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “Yes it has. He has been appointed by the government, the children’s trust is being enforced on us which he has been tasked with delivering, and we have seen no signs of him.

“Adult social care and children’s services are the two most important services we look after. We can’t just hand over responsibility to an anonymous body when we know nothing about it.

“I would hope that he comes to us in person, as we need to ask questions and challenge him on these important issues because they directly influence the resilience that we can build in our communities.”