Opposition councillors say consultation on Derbyshire County Council’s plan to make changes to its early help service did not ‘meet the legal requirements’

A decision to make sweeping changes to Derbyshire County Council’s early help service - which could see 200 staff lose their jobs - has been called in for extra scrutiny.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 28th February 2019, 10:07 am
Updated Thursday, 28th February 2019, 10:12 am
A decision to make sweeping changes to the county councils early help service, through which 200 staff could lose their jobs, has been called in for extra scrutiny.
A decision to make sweeping changes to the county councils early help service, through which 200 staff could lose their jobs, has been called in for extra scrutiny.

The service, which aims to spot the early signs of potential child abuse, would have its budget slashed by 60 per cent through the proposed changes.

It currently caters for more than 4,000 children and seeks to stop less-serious child abuse cases from escalating.

This could entail keeping a closer eye on families with a history of child abuse or partners who have previously posed a threat to children.

For example, in one case which the Derbyshire Safeguarding Children Board brought to light, a mother - who was instructed not to have men in her house for the safety of her children - had been asked if there was a man staying at her home.

She denied it, but staff found a man’s razor in her bathroom.

Opposition groups on the Tory-led county council say the decision to cut the service’s funding lacked proper and thorough consultation.

As a result, it will be debated further at a scrutiny meeting on Monday (March 4).

A letter signed by Labour councillors Paul Smith and Irene Ratcliffe, and Liberal Democrat councillors Sue Burfoot and Beth Atkins, states that a consultation on the proposed early help review did not ‘meet the legal requirements’.

The letter comments that there was a ‘complete lack of transparency’ due to not all parish councils being consulted on the proposals.

In total, the consultation had 368 responses – just 13 per cent of which were supportive of the proposals.

As part of the early help cutbacks, funding for 23 youth activity groups would also be pulled – these are a major part of the service’s outreach into the community.

One group, Ironville and Codnor Park Youth Club, was told its license was to be terminated several months before the consultation started.

The site had been found to be hazardous by the county council’s area surveyor, who said that sharp corroding steel which made up the former train carriage posed a risk of injury.

However, the centre - which frequently welcomes dozens of young people to the site - has since been given a ‘stay of execution’ which will allow it to reopen for six months, in order to make an array of required upgrades and repairs.

The letter calls attention to the consultation situation involving Ironville and Codnor Park Youth Club.

It also says that the services being axed are front-facing services which ‘engage directly with young people’.

The opposition councillors wrote that more consultation should have been carried out as a result of this.

Without further work, the consultation is ‘totally flawed’, they wrote.

As part of the early help overhaul, the system would be reshuffled to target the families and children most at risk, and to whom the council can ‘effect as much positive change as possible’.

The review aims to help schools to set up their own versions of the early help service, to take the burden off the authority.

This would be funded by £3mi already held by the council in its schools budget.

Coun Alex Dale, the cabinet member for young people, has said that ‘schools are the eyes and ears of our communities, they know the child, they will see the signs’.

Alongside this, the authority is providing £1.3m over the next three years to set up a transition term to ensure the changes to the service are carried out smoothly.

Eddie Bisknell , Local Democracy Reporting Service