Case study: Reading Children's Trust
Updated: Apr 15, 2021
Client: Reading Borough Council
Date: October 2017 – December 2018
Challenges faced by the client:Reading Borough Council received an ‘inadequate’ judgment from Ofsted in 2016, leading to the Department for Education issuing a statutory improvement notice and appointing an external Commissioner. Within the children’s services profession, Reading had a poor reputation and struggled to recruit and retain management and social workers.
After consideration, the Commissioner recommended that children’s services should be transferred to a new company, with its own governance and management structure. This decision was accepted by the local politicians. Within the council staff, Reading had just experienced a change in leadership and there was significant changes in personal within the council at all levels.
The financial backdrop also provided a huge challenge to both the service and the Council. At the time, Reading Borough Council was one of the councils at financial risk and was required to make large savings, against a situation of limited reserves and falling income.
Our support: Reading Borough Council appointed Mutual Ventures to lead a 14 month project to transform its children services and establishing the new company. We provided on-site project management and advice to the council on the design and establishment of the company. The aim was to give children’s services a ‘fresh start’ and create the conditions to deliver high quality children’s services. The project was under high levels of scrutiny locally and nationally and involved managing complex stakeholder interaction and political decision-making at national and local level.
Our work included:
Setting up a robust project governance infrastructure, with clear accountability and regular reporting
Selecting the right model for the new company (a wholly-owned local authority trading company).
Guiding the development of the contract which formed the basis for the council-company relationship.
Supporting the setting of the budget for the new company, including factoring in planned savings consistent with the council’s Medium Term Financial Plan.
Recruiting a strong board of directors and leadership team.
Ensuring the effective TUPE transfer staff and ongoing engagement with unions.
Designing the commissioning and contract management function within the council.
Disaggregating support services (e.g. HR and finance) from the council to ensure that both the council and company get a fair deal.
Ensuring assets, property and ICT for the company are fit for purpose.
Mutual Ventures provided technical expertise and experience from previous projects. We worked with our partners to provide specific advice on legal and VAT issues.
Outcome achieved: The new children’s company Brighter Futures for Children was launched on 1st December 2018. Following our work, we received excellent feedback from the Council and the Trust.
Since establishment, the service has shown rapid improvement. Following a full Ofsted inspection in October 2019, it received a ‘Requires Improvement’ judgment, reflecting a significant step up from the previous inspection.
Ofsted states how there have to improvements in areas of practice including quality of child assessments, timely recognition of risk, and the approach to supporting disabled young people into adulthood. The report acknowledges that ‘a lot of time, energy and resources went into setting up the company arrangement, but this is beginning to deliver results’ and how ‘partners now view the senior leadership team as responsive and visible’. However, some significant areas for improvement remain, and the quality of practice is still too variable.