Posted: 09 January 2017

Our position on the power to test different ways of working

This week MPs are debating new powers which will allow local authorities to test new ways of working through exemptions from children’s social care legislation.

The power to test

MPs will debate the new ‘power to test different ways of working’ in committee stage of the Children and Social Work Bill. The power will allow local authorities to apply for an exemption from an aspect of children’s social care legislation, or for permission to modify the way in which they discharge a duty, in order to test a new way of working for a limited period of time. 

There has been considerable concern about the potential implications of this proposed new power. In particular, when the proposals were first developed, it was unclear to what extent these powers might be used to erode children’s basic protections, and to deliver cuts to the provision of children’s social care services.  At this point we were concerned that the powers were too broad, did not include adequate safeguards to protect children and families and did not detail how monitoring and evaluation of pilots would take place. Members of the House of Lords subsequently voted to have them removed from the bill - requiring the government to reflect on the purpose of the power and refine their scope.

Our view

We take the view that improvements are urgently required in children's services in many parts of the country, and we have therefore always supported the Government's ethos to test approaches and achieve better outcomes. In our own organisation we are likewise committed to innovating and delivering novel and improved services for children across England.

Following the removal of the original clauses from the bill, we have been discussing options with the government to re-shape the power to give local authorities the flexibility to try new ways of working, whilst making sure that this has a clear and undiluted focus on improving outcomes for children. Since then, the Government have introduced robust new safeguards, including changes to the proposed primary legislation which will ensure that the power’s intent to safely trial new ways of working is future-proofed.

Importantly, new safeguards will help to ensure that only local authorities who have the capacity to deliver, will be eligible for an exemption, meaning that trials will be managed by capable local leaders.

Applicant authorities will also be required to undertake consultation, including with children and young people when relevant. Any application under this power must demonstrate how the pilot will improve one or more of the outcomes listed on the face of the bill for children and young people and therefore mitigate the risk of exemptions being granted in order to cut funding from children’s services.

Additionally, all applications will be assessed by an expert panel, and exemptions from legislation that received a full debate in both houses of parliament when introduced, will receive the same levels of scrutiny by parliament if modified through the power. Government have also sought to improve monitoring of the trials, including through placing a duty on the Secretary of State to report annually on the progress of each trial and committing to set out expectations for the evaluation of pilots in statutory guidance.

We are satisfied that these robust safeguards will now provide local authorities with the ability to safely test new ways of working in order to improve outcomes for children; we are therefore supportive of the Government's proposals to facilitate this.

The debate

Tomorrow’s debate provides an opportunity to proactively set out a framework for local areas to go further in trying new ways of working, sharing learning, and implementing better practice, with a view to improving outcomes.

There are some outstanding questions on the powers and we look forward to the Minister adding greater clarity on the new clauses in the debate.

By Matthew Reed - Leadership team

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