Hammersmith and Fulham is to become part of the Coalition Government’s latest scheme to reduce the role of the state in their drive to create the so-called “Big Society”. The Conservative Administration has agreed to become a pathfinder Council that will privatise the delivery of children’s services.
Having only recently decided to merge the Borough’s education department with Westminster (not a neighbouring borough), this will be seen as more evidence of an approach to the provision of Council services for local children that is at best, blasé.
Children’s services are the most politically and legally sensitive area for local authorities. The Baby ‘P’ case has drawn national attention to the high risks involved in failure to deliver adequate protection. Only 18 months ago Hammersmith and Fulham Tories gained national infamy by proposing to cut £905,000 from the children with critical needs budget. Coming in the wake of Baby ‘P’ the Labour Opposition led a fierce campaign and forced the Administration not to make the cut but the Conservatives’ intention was there for all to see.
Last month saw swinging cuts to children’s under-fives provision in Sands End, while plans to provide new play equipment in parks have been cancelled.
Meanwhile, many families in the Borough are struggling to find primary school places near their home – a situation made worse by the Conservatives closing and selling off schools. Families caring for children with special needs have already faced major changes in their access to support following the council’s forced closure of the Carers Centre. Now they will face further disruption, as the new social work-led service experiments with new and untried ways of providing services.
H&F Council’s plan to privitise Children’s Services involves setting up a new arms length ‘mutual’ company. It will be run by some ex-social service staff but advised by national firms like KPMG and John Lewis Partnership. It is notable that none of the companies mentioned in the cabinet office press release have any experience of running children’s services, or knowledge of the complex legal, social, and political sensitivities in this area.
In Hammersmith and Fulham we are fortunate in experiencing a growing population of children. They are our future, and unfortunately, far from responding with better services, the local Conservatives only see the budgets allocated to them as ripe for the chop.
The Conservative administration locally, and the coalition government nationally, are placing our children in the forefront of their expenditure cuts and social experiments.
This was all kept very quiet in the run up to the local elections last May. The parents and careers of our Borough’s children did not vote for these changes. They have not been consulted and, their vocal opposition to local cuts have been ignored. The Labour Opposition on H&F Council will work with local families. We will publicise and oppose the Tories’ dangerous plans and campaign for guarantees from this Administration that any changes it makes will benefit the needs of all families in the borough, and that those most at risk are most protected.