Slough’s children’s services under the magnifying glass – Photo 1 of 1

Slough’s children’s services under the magnifying glass – Photo 1 of 1

Slough’s children’s services came under scrutiny at a council meeting on Wednesday – specifically how their operations are affecting the council’s financial recovery.

Slough’s childcare was rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted for a number of years. In 2019, the rating rose to “needs improvement”.

All this time there have been concerns about the cost of the services and whether the support is appropriately targeted.

Slough Children First (SCF) became 100% council owned in April 2021. The aim was to give the council greater control over the direction of the service.

Therefore, the leadership of the SCF is “an important part of the Council’s recovery plans”. The idea is to strike a balance so that the SCF has the freedom to achieve its goals, but the Council has sufficient control to ensure its investments are protected.

Sarah Wilson is the Council’s lead counsel and serves as the SCF’s lead for governance. Speaking at the Audit and Corporate Governance Committee on Wednesday evening, she said:

“A significant part of the Council’s budget goes towards childcare – the Council should ensure it’s value for money and [SFC] achieves its goals.”

The “risk of failure is high,” she added. This could “put children at risk”. She said good governance is “inextricably linked to high performance”.

There have been “concerns” about the cost of services and there are questions about the amount of money the SCF is receiving – whether it is enough and how the Council should deal with the issue of the SCF’s borrowing.

The agreed contract value for SCF in 2022/23 was around £31.4million but there were two requests for increased funding during the year.

The SCF received a loan with which it financed the deficits of recent years. This could indicate “inadequate funding”.

Ms Wilson said that in the past the SCF may have been “too optimistic” about “helping the council with savings” – and as a result made proposals that were “likely to be unworkable”.

A review is recommended for the coming year to see what the contract amount should be – given that SCF is facing “increased demand and complexity” of cases.

Committee members expressed concern that the SCF governance update report submitted to them flagged many items as “no progress update” since the last report.

They believed that without more information, it would be difficult for the committee to determine if enough had been done to improve the SCF’s governance.

It was agreed that the Committee should return to this matter at a later date.

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