Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government

Part of Department for Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons at 4:33 pm on 2nd July 2019.

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Photo of Layla Moran Layla Moran Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Education) 4:33 pm, 2nd July 2019

I absolutely agree with that. Those calls were led by my right hon. Friend Norman Lamb, who has been working on this issue on a cross-party basis. We have to do this together or we are not going to do it at all.

I now come to children’s services, an issue that, as a former teacher, is very close to my heart. Councils are overspending on these services, too—they did so by £872 million in 2017-18. The Public Accounts Committee has reported that 91% of authorities overspent. We are talking about young vulnerable children here. Something odd is happening, because although the number of children in the population has gone up, increasing by 7% since 2010, the number of child protection assessments has increased by 77%, on average, across the country. Worryingly, however, the figures are really different depending on the area of the country, suggesting that best practice is not being spread. For example, Camden Council has decreased the number of children that it has in looked-after care but other parts of the country have increased this by more than 90%. What are the Government doing to ensure that what some councils are clearly doing right is being spread? Meanwhile 42% of all local councils are rated as good or outstanding by Ofsted—but that means 58% are not. That is atrocious. We need to make sure that councils are held to account. My understanding is that Ofsted is so overstretched that it has for the moment suspended the rating of local councils. Will the Minister clarify whether that is true?

The final thing I wish to talk about is prevention. I serve on the Public Accounts Committee, and my colleagues and I are interested in value for money for the taxpayer. I am deeply concerned that the changes to children’s centres and youth services are not delivering value for money. In fact, worse than that, they are failing the young people of our country. The decrease in the number of Sure Start centres in Oxfordshire has meant that we cannot reach the same number of families as we did previously.

Meanwhile, the head of Ofsted said in her annual report:

“The evidence suggests that these cuts to youth and other services are a false economy, simply leading to greater pressures elsewhere.”

The Minister will know that in 2015 the Government axed the Audit Commission. Who is looking after the money? When something is cut in one Department, what effect is it going to have elsewhere? I am told that the responsibility is now in the purview of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, but it is not transparent. In the reports that the Public Accounts Committee has seen, it was not obvious that everyone knows what is going on. That is a key ask of the Minister: who is looking after the money? From what we have seen, not enough people are.

The lack of someone looking after the money has an effect on things such as the schools system. Schools have now become a repository for every other issue that has happened in local government, and we see the same with our police. I am sure many Members know of similar issues to those that I see in respect of special educational needs and disability funding: there just is not enough money adequately to support the children who need education, health and care plans. Why, when schools are already under funding pressure, are they being asked to provide the first £6,000 towards any plan? Surely it would make more sense that if a child has a need, that need is fulfilled.

Similarly, when are we going to see the Government address inequalities in the system, such as those relating to young carers? They are required in statutory legislation to undergo an assessment of what they need, but there is no legislation that follows through on that and says that they have to be provided with the things they have been assessed as needing. Who is dealing with those kinds of inequalities?