No-notice funding axe by DfE is “pure spite”, says former CEO of Children’s Services

Janet Downs's picture
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“Now you see it – now you don’t!” appears to be the maxim of the Department of Education (DfE) regarding funding for the Children's Improvement Board.

The Board was set up in 2011 as a sector-led initiative to help Local Authorities (LAs) improve performance on adoption, tackling child sexual exploitation and learning lessons from child abuse cases. It received £10.5m from the Department for Education (DfE) in 2011/12 and £8m in 2012/13.

But the DfE has withdrawn promised funding for 2013/14. A statement from the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives (SOLACE) said it was 'wholly perplexed by the department’s volte face.”

Colin Hilton, the Board’s chairman, said, “We knew this funding was always going to be time-limited, but this announcement comes as a complete shock when we are already a week into the new financial year.”

It leaves no time for contingency planning and puts at risk the good work carried out by the Children’s Improvement Board in supporting councils to improve their children’s services.”

“Since the ministerial announcement of our continued funding last autumn, we have worked with the DfE and agreed on plans for improving performance... This decision will now throw this important work into doubt.

“We know Whitehall intervention is not the answer to protecting vulnerable children and a sector-led approach is the best way forward. However, such work needs to be adequately resourced and it is untenable to throw the full weight of this on councils, which are already contending with government cuts to their budgets by a third.”

Chris Waterman, former CEO of ADCS*, went further. He described the sudden withdrawal of funding as “pure spite” and said:

“This is just one part of a deliberate strategy to further reduce local authorities' capacity to deliver their statutory duties and to improve themselves. Mr Gove is working hard to destabilise and deconstruct the local authority infrastructure.”

A spokesman said the DfE would continue to “drive improvement across children’s services” and would help LAs by cutting “unnecessary bureaucracy”. Slashing red tape seems to be a catch-all justification covering everything from academy conversion to planning. Now it’s being used to defend cuts in funding. This could be summarised as, “You can cope with less money because you’ve got less paperwork.”

Some commentators questioned the timing of the funding axe just as Ofsted is planning to toughen oversight of the early years. And the DfE has said it will take “focused action in areas where performance across the country is not strong enough.”

At the same time, Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-School Learning Alliance, said the Government is removing the role of LAs in supporting local provision while pre-school training support had been cut by 40% in the last year and nursery workers were being expected to supervise 50% more children.

"While we welcome the aspiration of high-quality childcare” Leitch said, “without a rethink on policy and adequate funding from government, we struggle to see how a real improvement will be made."

So, cut funding and send in inspectors working within a more stringent framework. It appears that LAs could be being set up to fail.

 

*Association of Directors of Children’s Services
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