Sunderland children's services transfer to new company

SUNDERLAND City Council has become the first local authority in the country to voluntarily transfer the running of its children's services to a not-for-profit company.

Together for Children was set up after a July 2015 Ofsted inspection found "serious and widespread" failings in the city council's running of children's services, including poor leadership "at all levels". An external trust run by a Government-appointed commissioner has been in charge of services since December 2015.

The new company will be responsible for services covering education, children's social care and early help for 57,630 children and young people, and their families.

Together for Children is owned and funded by the council but has its own independent board. Alex Hopkins, who joined the council as director of children's services from Northamptonshire County Council last year, will act as chief executive.

More than 800 staff transferred to the company on 1 April. This included social care, Early Years, family support and education staff, as well as specialists in areas such as youth offending and substance misuse.

Cllr Paul Watson, leader of the city council, said: "There has been a tremendous amount of hard work to improve the service since July 2015, with some significant improvements, and the last three Ofsted monitoring visits have all reported steady progress.

"We believe Together for Children is best placed to build on what has been achieved already and to drive forward the further improvements that are needed."

Nick Whitfield, commissioner for children's services, said: "This is a real opportunity to deliver innovative children's services that can ensure further improvement and sustained delivery.

"The council deserves credit for recognising that it needed to do something different to make a difference to children's lives and for forging ahead with those plans to drive forward further improvements."