‘Inherent tensions’ between the roles of Northamptonshire’s government appointed commissioners is why Children’s Commissioner Malcolm Newsam resigned.
A Freedom of Information request by the Local Democracy Reporting Service has revealed a letter sent to CommissionersTony McArdle and Brian Roberts from Mr Newsam in which he explained his reasons for standing down from the job in September.
Copied to the portfolio holder for children’s services Cllr Fiona Baker the letter on September 23 says: “Thank you for your letter of 19th September. I’m grateful for the clarity in which you set your your position. This does highlight the inherent tension with our respective directions we we have all struggled to resolve. Under these circumstances I do not believe there is anything further I can contribute to improvements in children’s services required by Ministers.”
Commissioners McArdle and Roberts were sent into the council by Government in May last year after the financial collapse of the authority which had been failing to spend within budgets for years and had exhausted reserves. Their job is to get the council’s finances back on track and to improve service levels.
Mr Newsam, who has a track record of making improvements in failing children’s services across the country, had been appointed by central government in November last year to turn around Northants chilldren’s services in the wake of a damning Ofsted visit which found a series of problems including manageable caseloads and not enough experienced social workers.
In his first report in March this year Mr Newsam said he had found ‘chaos’ in the multi-agency-safeguarding hub (MASH) which is the first point of call for people or agencies who have concerns about a child’s welfare. He also said there was a ‘prevalent culture of complacency within the management of the service underpinned by a lack of accountability or consequence for poor performance’. He concluded there was a long way to go before the basics of professional standards of social work were in place.
The department – which this summer was the focus of two Serious Case Reviews into the murders of two young children in December 2017 and April 2018 – was trying to turn around its services at the same time as making large financial savings. This financial year £10m of savings was planned for the department, which has an overall budget of £116m. Currently the authority is predicting £7m of those savings will not be made – largely due to the high cost of agency staff and out-of-county residential costs for some of its looked-after children.
Mr Newsam had faced criticism from some councillors for not attending public meetings and just before he resigned the shadow member for children’s services Cllr Jane Birch had put forward a motion calling on the commissioner to give the council a programme to address a number of concerns including early help and prevention services.
Following his resignation the director of children’s services Sally Hodges also stood down along with her deputy Jean Imray. Last month it was also revealed that the number of children in need who have not been allocated a social worker had risen again to more than 230.
Mr Newsam was replaced by Andrew Christie last month, who is also joined by support commissioner Clare Chamberlain.
Mr Christie has not as yet made any public statements about what he intends to do in the role, although he will be overseeing the government directed transition of Northamptonshire children’s services to an independent trust by July 2020.