Peterborough Children’s Services in Crisis: Consultants Named

07:07 Friday 25th November 2011
Peterborough Breakfast Show
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

PAUL STAINTON: Peterborough City Council’s Children’s Services has a new Director, looking after the department. It was confirmed yesterday a super-consultant is to be brought in to try and improve it, which  was criticised by Ofsted in September. Now one city councillor is questioning how truly successful consultants have been when tackling the same job in the past. Let’s speak to Cllr Mike Fletcher. Morning Mike.
MIKE FLETCHER: Good morning Paul. ..
PAUL STAINTON: Now how many consultants have had a go at Children’s Services in say the last three or four years? How many different companies have had a go at sorting it out.
MIKE FLETCHER: There’s been three, and as you know, I’ve been very critical about the cost and use of consultants, and with good reason. Because in this case I’m not criticising the appointment of Mr. Newsam. In view of the present situation, it is obvious that someone with expertise, experience and a good track record has to be appointed. The amount he’s being paid is something that is questionable, but then again, neither am I criticising Sheila Scott, for the reason that I do not have any information to make judgement on her performance whatsoever. What does concern me, and requires clarification, is the fact that three consultancy firms, BSL, Virtus and V4 Limited, each have a website, all claiming to have done wondrous things by transforming Children’s Services. In fact, a paragraph taken from the website of V4 reads: “After being seen as a burden on the Council, and a powerful resister of change for many years, Children’s Services has now taken it’s place at the forefront of Peterborough’s innovative programme of business transformation.
PAUL STAINTON: That’s news, isn’t it?
MIKE FLETCHER: We now know that recent Ofsted reports contradict these claims, and within two years an expert team has had to be brought in to sort out the mess. As a councillor, I want to know exactly why this transformation of Children’s Services broke down, if it ever existed. I have to ask the question, was the transformation actually unfit for purpose? Were the systems ignored by subsequent Directors? OIr has there been insufficient staff to actually deal with the workload?
PAUL STAINTON: And how much have we paid for all these consultants over the last four or five years?
MIKE FLETCHER: It’s never been denied that they’re on or have been on £1300 a day. Nobody’s ever denied that.
PAUL STAINTON: We heard yesterday from Kent County Council, who have employed the new guy Mike Newsam, saying he is all that. He is going to do the job.
MIKE FLETCHER: Well if he’s going to do the job, fair enough. It’s been said before, what price can we put on children’s safety. There is no price. If the man’s going to actually do the job, fine, but these claims have come from three other consultants, all going to do the same job. They’re going to transform Children’s Services, as they transformed, what is it, Business Services or whatever you like. It’s all transformation with them. But Mr Newsam, £1000 a day, or probably even more. It’s a terrible amount of money, especially in these times, but there again, as I’ve just said, what price can we put on children’s safety.
PAUL STAINTON: Well exactly Mike. It is a difficult balancing act, isn’t it?
MIKE FLETCHER: It is indeed.
PAUL STAINTON: Lots of questions from Councillor Mike Fletcher. We can also speak to Cllr Stephen Goldspink, a former Cabinet member for Children’s Services, also works as a consultant I believe Stephen. Is that right?
STEPHEN GOLDSPINK: I’m afraid so Paul. Yes, I have to take that tarring with the brush.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes. So you were a former Cabinet Member for Children’s Services. All these companies, BSL, Virtus and V4, claim to have achieved outstanding results, and transformed Children’s Services. Something’s not right somewhere.
STEPHEN GOLDSPINK: Well when I was into Children’s Services, which was back in 2008, certainly the consultant who was acting as Interim Director then had made a number of changes which I was very impressed with. Now I think Mike put it very well when he said, why haven’t these changes been made. Were they actually done, to which I think the answer is yes. Certainly I could see the evidence that changes had been put in place. Did we have insufficient staff to maintain them? Yes I think we probably did. And were they not maintained? No I think they probably weren’t maintained.
PAUL STAINTON: So we spent all this money, and it was a bit of a waste of time, because we didn’t have enough staff to sort out the changes that were made, is what you’re saying.
STEPHEN GOLDSPINK: Yes well I always .. when you walk out the door as a consultant, you can’t be responsible for what’s then done with your work. And it’s difficult. You obviously try and embed it as best you can, but at the end of the day, part of what you’re trying to do is transfer some of your expertise on to the existing staff. I’m not selfish about it. I don’t think other consultants are either. They go in there to try and change things, and make them stick. But if they don’t stick, there’s not a lot you can do about it. And I think that’s where the problem has occurred. And it’s probably against the background of enormous pressures on resources, which we’ve seen in the last few years, and difficult decisions having to be made. I’m not defending people, but I’m saying as far as I’m concerned this is a management problem within the Council. It’s not really a problem necessarily with the consultants.
PAUL STAINTON: So what did we waste, do you think, with these companies, BSL, Virtus and V4? They came in, gave us all this expert advice. We paid them a fortune, and then we didn’t have the staff to carry it through. How much do you think we wasted?
STEPHEN GOLDSPINK: I have no idea whether there was money wasted or not. I know some of the changes were embedded, and they carried on. And certainly the way we looked at children, and those children who were the neediest children, was quite revolutionary. We were looking to say how do children slip from being somebody who doesn’t cost us a lot of money, they do what they’re supposed to etc., into different levels of intervention. And how can we stop them slipping further down the chain and using more and more of our money. But I don’t know what the cost was. What I do know is that we haven’t had sufficient monitoring of the changes that have been made. And with regard to Mr Newsam, Michael says I think he’s going to do a good job. My question would be, what job, what success criteria have we set out for him, how are we going to measure it, who’s monitoring it, and most of all, let’s have it out in the open, so the public of Peterborough can see what he is supposed to be doing, over what period, and what the success criteria are. Even better, and I’m not afraid to work within this regime myself, payment by result.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes, well, that would be a good idea. We’ll have Mike on hopefully next week. We did ask for him to come on today, but it’s a little bit early. And we will grill him about how, why, when and how he’s going to be judged. How confident are you Stephen, that this time around, with this super-consultant, and this amazing amount of money, that when he comes in and gives us this fantastic advice, as he has done in Kent, we’ve got the staff to actually carry it through, when he leaves?
STEPHEN GOLDSPINK: Well that’s a difficult one isn’t it Paul? I like to be optimistic, but to be quite honest, the track record in Children’s Services and in other departments has not been good. We’ve spent a lot of time bringing people in to sort problems out. We’ve equally had a pool of people who’ve worked in the middle who Michael referred to, Cllr Michael Fletcher referred to. This is business transformation people, who I think have made a real difference to the way the Council works, and are continuing to do so. But some of that’s bound to be lost, because we’re outsourcing the services concerned.
PAUL STAINTON: Well that was Councillor Mike Fletcher and Stephen Goldspink. .. We actually contacted all three of the consultancy companies employed by the City Council in 2006. Only one of them got back to us, and sent us a statement. This is V4, who’ve said, “V4 worked in partnership with Peterborough City Council in 2008 to continue the transformation work within Children’s Services department ..” this is just three years ago “.. which had originally started in October 2007. The overall 12 months project resulted in delivery of service improvements needed to bring Government intervention to an end, the department’s budget brought back on target, following a forecast overspend of £3,500,000, and a reduction in the number of children in care by 9.6%. Like any organisational business, the factors affecting the provision of its services can change quickly, and the need for the organisation to adapt and change to meet the needs of its customers and service users is a continual and challenging process.” Well later on in the show we’ll be hearing from the City Council’s Cabinet Member for Resources about the use of consultants within Peterborough City Council.



PAUL STAINTON: Questions have been raised over how much has been spent on consultants to improve the Children’s Services department at Peterborough City Council, and over whether bringing in consultants is really a tactic that ever works. Earlier we heard from Councillor Mike Fletcher. He says he’s worried about all these consultants who claim to be doing the same thing. (TAPE)
MIKE FLETCHER: What does concern me, and requires clarification, is the fact that three consultancy firms, BSL, Virtus and V4 Limited, each have a website, all claiming to have done wondrous things by transforming Children’s Services. (LIVE)
PAUL STAINTON: We also spoke to Councillor Stephen Goldspink, a former Cabinet Member for Children’s Services. (TAPE)
STEPHEN GOLDSPINK: Well when I was into Children’s Services, which was back in 2008, certainly the consultant who was acting as Interim Director then had made a number of changes which I was very impressed with. Now I think Mike put it very well when he said, why haven’t these changes been made. Were they actually done, to which I think the answer is yes. Certainly I could see the evidence that changes had been put in place. Do we have insufficient staff to maintain them? Yes I think we probably did. (LIVE)
PAUL STAINTON: Well let’s speak to Councillor David Seaton, who’s the Cabinet member for Resources. Morning David.
DAVID SEATON: Morning Paul.
PAUL STAINTON: Do consultants ever work? Are they an effective way of tackling problems?
DAVID SEATON: Well I think Paul it’s in no-one’s interests to allow consultants to be employed without giving clear value. It would be stupid to do so, as we all pay council tax. Can I just be clear on this specific point. The issues identified recently by Ofsted are not related to the works three years ago of consultants. We need to be clear about that.
PAUL STAINTON: No that’s fine. But these consultants all claim on their websites that they’ve transformed Children’s Services. Well, in what way? Because things don’t look great at the moment, do they? They’ve not transformed them from where we’re sitting.
DAVID SEATON: Well we’re talking about work that was undertaken three years ago. Councillor Goldspink said that work was revolutionary. The Ofsted report was critical of the leadership and management by officers. As your listeners already know, the senior officer, the Director of Children’s Services, resigned as a result. You know, if Councillor Fletcher or anyone else has any doubt about that I’d urge them to read the report which is on the Ofsted website for all to see.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes. The accusation is that these consultants come in, and then we spend all this money on them. They change things. But we don’t have the staff to carry it through, al la John Richards et al.
DAVID SEATON: Well with regard to the specific work of consultants Paul we had a review of that, undertaken by Members, just one from the ruling group. We couldn’t be fairer with that. That review which also listened to Councillor Fletcher’s opinions, specifically said that there were advantages in employing consultants, that the Council very carefully monitored the return received. And that was not the first such review. So that review said that consultants do work.
PAUL STAINTON: Do we ever know how much we spend on consultants? Do we ever get a figure?
DAVID SEATON: That review went into some quite considerable detail. I recently reported to Scrutiny with a full list for the first six months of this year of the consultants we’d employed, and how much we had spent on each.
PAUL STAINTON: How much have we spent then David? In the first six months this year how much have we spent as a Council on consultants?
DAVID SEATON: Well I think that came to about £2,500,000 Paul. That included interim managers, consultants who we bring in for example for large property projects, to do specific work on that. So it’s quite a range of things we use consultants for.
PAUL STAINTON: Are we going to ensure this time around though .. this guy,  I know we want to get Children’s Services right. It’s important for the children in this city. I’m not detracting from that. A lot of people have made the point, a lot of people would pay anything to get Children’s Services right. Are we going to ensure that this time around, there are measurable targets in place, and make sure that department, Children’s Services, has measures in place so we know whether these consultants have been successful, and we know whether the department is being run correctly?
DAVID SEATON: I certainly believe so Paul. As your listeners heard from Kent County Council yesterday, Malcolm Newsam the new Director has a proven track record of turning around Children’s Services departments and making really rapid changes to improve services. Anyone can search the internet and see the evidence of that. Mike Fletcher said you can’t put a price on children’s safety. I agree with that. We now have a clear improvement plan in place. That improvement plan will be assessed both by internal boards and an external board with an independent Chair. So we really are going belt and braces on this to make sure that we get it right.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes. If only we’d done it before, eh? We’d have been alright, wouldn’t we?
DAVID SEATON: I wish we didn’t have to do it again Paul.
PAUL STAINTON: David, thank you for that. Councillor David Seaton, Cabinet member for Resources. A little bit of information as to how much Peterborough City Council has spent on consultants in the first six months of this year, about £2,500,000. And we’re pleased to hear that there will be safeguards in place and measures in place to see whether Children’s Services have been sorted out, when the new man starts his job on Monday, Malcolm Newsam. We will hopefully have a chat with him as well next week, and find out how big a job he’s got on his hands.


V4 Services:
V4 Services article quotation from here: (pdf file)
BSL Consulting:
Virtus Services: (site blank at date of writing)