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“But was it necessary to have the extra cost, complication and time delay of setting up trusts to achieve this, when other areas do so while keeping services in-house?”Doncaster council declines to elaborate on Miller’s remarks.Nor will Slough council comment on ongoing costs, beyond stating that trust budgets are “in line” with what in-house services would have received – though “Trusts add fragmentation and complexity, because there is still a transaction to be added around the time and costs of a commissioner within the council,” says Jones.He argues that the model is not an “efficient way” to drive improvement.The organisation’s recent ‘best employer’ award was based partly on ways it has enabled staff to propose service improvements and to try new ideas; for example, by giving frontline workers the power to spend certain budgets without having to go through layers of management for permission.“There’s a sense of people being free to try things; people putting hands up to make proposals who wouldn’t have before,” says Hartfield.“The mindset is different.” Both Achieving for Children and Doncaster children’s trust have pointed to staff satisfaction surveys as evidence of things working well.Birmingham council’s decision was first mooted last May as it faced government pressure to act on a series of unfavourable Ofsted judgments and a Channel 4 undercover documentary on the authority’s child protection services.It marks the latest example of a gradually growing movement towards independent provision of children’s services.
But critics fear trusts are an unnecessarily costly and disruptive way of achieving improvements that could be delivered in-house. In 2015 it became only the second service to see its Ofsted rating jump from ‘inadequate’ to ‘good’ in the space of a single inspection (for the Kingston half of its operation; Richmond was already ‘good’).
“Whether you’re a local authority or a trust, if children and young people are at the centre of what you do, that’s what makes it work.