Clause 3 is extremely important for ensuring a strong framework of accountability for the work of providers of social work services. It is important to be clear that under the social work practice model the local authority will remain the corporate parent for looked-after children and the local authority will remain accountable for what happens to them. Local authorities will use the children and young person’s plan to set out their priorities for local children, including looked-after children, and inform the commissioning of a social work practice.
The local authority’s director of children’s services will have oversight of the operation of the social work practice, just as they would in relation to other local children’s services delivered directly by the local authority. In that respect, the contract between the local authority and the social work practice will be absolutely crucial. It is through that contract that the local authority will set out the outcomes that the social work practices must deliver and the framework within which they must work, including requirements for multi-agency working and other issues relevant to the delivery of local authority services.
Once the contract is agreed, there must be rigorous, frequent and engaged contract management, as there is no question of the local authority tacking its foot off the accelerator simply because of its contract with the social work practice. We envisage a relationship of partnership between the local authority and the social work practice, involving regular meetings to spot potential problems early and agree steps to put them right. The close management of the social work practice will be important in the light of the local authority remaining the corporate parent and retaining responsibility for the discharge of its functions. As I explained earlier, the IRO will be another key mechanism for ensuring that.
Clause 3 confirms that the local authority will be accountable for the acts and omissions of the social work practice, without removing the accountability of the practice itself. That is vital for ensuring the proper protection of children and families supported by providers of social work services. The local authority must remain responsible for the discharge of its functions in relation to looked-after children, even if it delegates some of those functions to a social work practice. As I have said, that means that it will be accountable to the service, provided that it remains the corporate parent of the children it looks after, so children and their families can have the reassurance of knowing that that claim could be pursued against the local authority directly if things go wrong. Local authorities will require a comprehensive contract and proactive contract management.
That does not mean that the social work practice will escape liability for its actions and failures. Its work will be sensitive, the decisions it makes will be critical and we want to ensure that it is directly accountable to the children and families it serves. Although clause 3(1) ensures that the local authority is accountable for the acts and omissions of the social work practice, clause 3(2)(c) confirms that claims may be brought against the practice in the usual way if things go wrong.
Concerns were raised by the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham and my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford about the human rights implications. I confirm what I said in response to those interventions. Social work practices will be liable for their acts and omissions under the Human Rights Act 1998. Social work practices will discharge public functions and our view is that they will automatically come under the definition of “public authority” in section 6(3)(b) of the Human Rights Act. We take that view because the functions are imposed by legislation on the local authority and the discharge of those functions will be paid for by the local authority out of public funds.