Nottingham City Council has enlisted the help of consultants at a cost of up to £9m to help improve failing children’s services.
Children’s services at the authority were found to be leaving some children at risk of harm and were rated ‘inadequate’ by inspectors Ofsted earlier this year.
The Government served the authority with a formal ‘improvement notice’ after hearing of concerns raised in the inspector’s report.
Now, Nottingham City Council has signed contracts with Newton Europe – a specialist in operational improvement based in Oxfordshire – to help deliver its improvement programme.
Support will be ongoing for two years, it was announced during a children and young people’s scrutiny committee meeting on 1 December.
At an Executive Board meeting in February 2022, councillors approved the plans to spend up to £6.5m to find a “delivery partner” and another £2.4m to support the internal delivery of the improvement programme over four years.
During the meeting, leaders within children’s services explained their Transformation Programme.
Council documents stated: “The committee was informed that due to the size, scale and pace of transformation required, an external delivery partner was needed to provide the necessary experience, expertise and capacity to deliver transformation and, at the time of the last report to the committee, procurement of that delivery partner was underway.”
A tender process took place between March and April 2022, which resulted in Newton Europe being appointed as ‘Transformation Delivery Partner’. They began work in August 2022.
“Our promise is simple: we’ll leave your organisation better equipped to solve future challenges without us”, Newton Europe’s website states.
It comes as the authority has unveiled a new improvement plan named ‘changing lives, changing futures’ with a new logo.
Ailsa Barr, Director for Children’s Integrated Services for the council, said: “We did a diagnostic piece of work last year.
“As a council a formal decision was made we wanted to go ahead in March.
“We invited tenders for the work and through that process, Newton was awarded the tender in July and the contract was signed a couple of weeks ago.
“It is likely to be around at least for two years [of support] then they will do health checks with us and we can call them back in if we need to.
“They will have an extended period of time working with us.”
Chad Thompson, Children’s Transformation Lead, added: “This is a great opportunity to get things right.”
Ms Barr also outlined the service’s priorities as part of the improvement programme – including getting support for children at the right time, workforce stability and effective management.
Some councillors questioned the costs and timings involved with the consultants.
Maria Joannou (Lab) said: “Are we able to monitor what we’re doing so in 10 years’ time we don’t have to bring someone else?
“From what we’ve seen so far I don’t see the whole thing coming together.”
AJ Matsiko (Lab) added: “I’m wondering why it will take two years.
“That is a long time and a lot of money.”
Catherine Underwood, Corporate Director for People Services, replied: “The challenge about why it takes so long reflects the complexity – and what we are clear about is this has to be a sustainable change.
“This is about getting underneath the skin of how we support practitioners.”
“They [Newton Europe] bring to the table a vast wealth of capability to get right under the numbers and do analysis that we wouldn’t have the capacity to do.
“This is about a step change in transformation.”
Cllr Maria Watson (Ind) said she spent “many years in care”.
She said: “This looks really good and there are some wonderful things in there.
“Have we failed children in the past? Will this be the last change? Will we get it right this time?
“Putting it on paper is one thing, enforcing it is completely different.”