SLOUGH’S once ‘inadequate’ rated children’s service has produced a plan to work within its budget after council bailouts.

Senior councillors sitting on the cabinet were presented a three-year interim plan that looks to improve Slough Children First Limited (SCFL), a children’s service wholly owned by the council since April last year.

It looks to improve children’s files to be good or above from 24 per cent to 70 per cent within 18 months in order to achieve a ‘good’ rating by watchdog Ofsted, rely less on agency staff and attract qualified permanent workers, and develop partnerships with other organisations.

Back when the company was independent, known as the Slough Children’s Services Trust, it had historically overspent its budgets resulting in the council having to cover it.

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Speaking at the meeting on Monday, February 21, council leader James Swindlehurst said the Trust “never balanced its budget” since its was established in 2015 after the Department for Education (DfE) removed service responsibility from the council when it was rated ‘inadequate’ by damning Ofsted reports.

But within this interim plan, bosses say they will ‘work within its £40m budget’ by reducing agency staff spend and other cost efficiencies. This comes at a time when SCFL must find £4.7m of savings for the 2022/23 budget.

Cllr Swindlehurst acknowledged communication between the company and the council has improved since the council takeover in April but was “very nervous” the council may need to fill the company’s future finances.

Slough Observer: Cllr James SwindlehurstCllr James Swindlehurst (Image: Slough Borough Council)

He said: “This ongoing fragility is a real concern to us because if there is any resentment about the company arrangements its only that we can’t have a situation – where our own finances as a council are fragile as they are – where the company pops up having generating large overspends and tells us about it afterwards.

“And that’s the only thing that sets me off on one is I want properly collaboratively arrangement that minimises the shock to us.”

Andrew Fraser, who became interim chief executive of SCFL since January 2022, said transformation funding from the DfE is set to “taper off” next year but they are implementing an improvement plan to come in on budget and deliver an effective service.

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This plan includes developing an early help system and an edge of care system.

He also said he will bring a consultant in who can “get money out of a stone” to achieve the 4.7m savings.

Delivery of the savings is predicated on £1.9m of one-off support from the DfE but not as yet agreed.

Last year, SCFL accumulated a £5.4m deficit. Cabinet members decided to write off £2.4m of debt the organisation owed the council while the DfE provided a £3m one-off grant.

The council also loaned SCFL £5m ‘to aid cash-flow’. It was heard the company will be in a position to pay this back by the end of its service delivery contract.

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Despite the children’s service having a rocky journey of damning reports, for the first time in 10 years, no services have been given an ‘inadequate’ rating and bosses are striving for a majority of the services to be given a ‘good’ ranking.  

The interim plan was meant to be put forward to cabinet in September but was delayed due to limited resources, a change of personnel, and identifying savings.

While cabinet councillors acknowledged this plan is temporary, they believed it needed some ‘flesh on the bone’ to address their concerns but it will evolve over time.

Members, who approved the interim plan, will be updated on the plan on a quarterly basis and SCFL will submit its business plan for 2023 to 2026 by 30 September.