The redesign of Birmingham’s Early Years services is likely to take the best part of 5-6 years from conception to execution. Birmingham’s Early Years Services currently provide support to around 100,000 parents and 80,000 children at any one time. Early years services consist of Children’s centres, Health Visitors, Parenting support and Pregnancy and breastfeeding support services which support parents from the time a child is conceived up until the age of 5.
There has been a major service review over a nearly 3 three year period, and the current procurement process up to the award of the new contract is likely to take a further 10-11 months, there will be a further period where the contract is implemented. This extended period of time and the convoluted nature of the processes involved have provided useful political cover to the Council’s Labour leadership who have still not had to name and own the actual cuts and closures in Early Years services to come.
“ The game’s out there, and it’s play or get played. That simple”
Forget Birmingham’s children, the Le Grand review of Birmingham’s failing children’s social care department is part of a bigger national political game and Birmingham’s failings are Michael Gove’s opportunities.
Gove set out his agenda last November when he stated ‘I believe that we have not been either systematic, radical or determined enough in our efforts to reform the system of children’s social care in this country.’ (1) Going on to question why Children’s social care services needed to be provided by local councils.
All the better that Birmingham is a high profile Labour controlled council, that has been politically hamstrung by it’s failure to prioritise and improve services to vulnerable children in the city while simultaneously cutting them.
The well documented difficulties of social care services in the city over more than a ten year period and failure to adequately safeguard children have allowed the Government to appoint a Review Team whose brief included making proposals for alternative arrangements for delivering these critical services.
The Review has been led by Prof Julian Le Grand, and while nominally independent Le Grand has impeccable neo-liberal credentials as a champion of independent Social Work practices under the last New Labour Government and an exponent of competition and market forces within public provision.
A shortfall of resources has been identified as a critical issue in the Le Grand Review of children’s social care services in Birmingham which was published last week.
The independent review was appointed by the Government in November to report on the ability of the Council to make improvements to it’s safeguarding services after being rated as inadequate by repeated OFSTED inspections since 2009.
The underfunding of child social care in the city is identified as a likely factor affecting the relatively low rate of child protection referrals into the Department.
The report raises a current concern that there are a significant number of young people in need of protection who have not been referred to the council, what the report calls at ‘unidentified risk’.
The Reviewer’s compared the rates of referral and safeguarding activity between different council’s and found that there are a lower number of active child protection cases in Birmingham than should be expected.
In Birmingham the rate of child protection enquiries per 10,000 children for 2013 was 107.5 compared to the national average of 111.5. This rate of referral would also be expected to be higher in Birmingham due to the higher proportion of local children living in poverty and in low income families in the city.
The review authors raise the possibility that Birmingham has developed a high threshold criteria to cope with the under resourcing of safeguarding service.
Spring Hill Library was listed for closure in Ladywood District’s cuts program. The iconic Victorian Gothic a Free Library had recently been refurbished at a cost of £250000 to Tesco as a condition of the development of the new store alongside.
A meeting of 15 outraged residents and users met on January 31st and vowed to fight the closure. A week later a further meeting attracted 30 people. They pointed out that Spring Hill is a thriving library with increasing footfall. On the border of Ladywood and Soho wards, it provides vital library, information, and computer services to two of the most deprived wards in the whole UK. The convenience of combining a visit to the library with a shopping trip means the library is finding many more remote users too.
The secretary to Ladywood MP Shabana Mahmood attended the meeting and advised that the campaign discuss alternative ways of finding the cuts with the district officers, but many people are opposed to a tit for tat approach and just want the decision reversed.
On Saturday February 9th a petitioning session was held outside the library and in Tesco. Hundreds of signatures were obtained and this will be repeated next Saturday. The local support is overwhelming and this is fight that can and must be won.
Council Cuts – What, Where, When and Why
A public meeting with Steve Salt, District Head, Perry Barr and Alistair Wingate, Handsworth Against the Cuts. Local Councillors also invited.
7pm, Wed 5th Feb
St Augustine’s School
Avenue Road, B21 8ED
All District Committees meet at the Council House in the daytime, just to make them inaccessible?
Members of the public have the right to attend but only to speak at the discretion of the chair. The current round of meetings will be discussing the district cuts to libraries, play centres, youth facilities, neighbourhood advice, car parking, etc. These total 30% of budget this year and 30% of what is left next year! making 50% overall.
Selly Oak Thursday 30th January 11.00
Perry Barr Thursday 30th January 3.00
Northfield Friday 31st January 2.00
Districts of Birmingham City Council have started to reveal the details of how services will be cut as districts look set to lose nearly half their budgets over the next two years. What emerges from these documents is a clear strategy – re-allocate some budgets to schools and health, hope that others can become self-financing and cut orconsolidate buildings reducing opening hours across many services rather than ending fewer services entirely. Where there are reductions in staffing they will look to achieve this through voluntary redundancies. Consultation on these cuts is still to be decided by all districts.