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22 May 2024

Update from the Chair

The Board governance review is ongoing. There have been conversations with the three CEOs and a draft has been produced. There is a further meeting with the three CEOs on 24 June.

Update from Chair of Audit and Risk Committee

Seven audits have been conducted since the previous meeting. The annual data will be available in June so there will be a more detailed update at the July meeting. 

The draft annual report and accounts was reviewed and looked good. 

We have a Risk Workshop coming up on the 11 June where we will review the Risk Register and Board Assurance framework. The Board Assurance Framework is in really good shape and we have done some good work to articulate our assessment of our risks.

Ownership Board - emerging themes

A plan was circulated and members of the Board were asked for their views. 

There is a good level of confidence in both AfC as a company and what they do, as well as in the work that our staff do on the ground.

Provider services - there is a great deal of work going on at the moment but this will need another conversation in July before it goes to Members.

Social Care Self Assessments and Inspection readiness

A presentation was shared and there was a discussion regarding the self assessments and inspection readiness. 

RBWM Director of Children's Service update

Lin Ferguson provided an update on the following key areas: 

  • In relation to recruitment and retention, the number of agency staff has reduced by 10 to 24. 
  • Whilst demand remains very high at the front door, there has been a slight reduction in referrals. The need to buy expensive residential provision continues to be an issue. 
  • We have seen an increase in need for Family Help services which has resulted in 75 families awaiting a service. They do get support in the interim.
  • Last year the Families Together team was brought in as part of the invest to save programme. There have been 37 referrals since they went live last year, with a total cost avoidance and savings of around £2m. We are now carrying out some work on where else they can add value.
  • Overall there has been a reduction in permanent exclusions, however there has been a disproportionate increase in the exclusion of children with EHCPs. We have held a workshop with schools and Overview & Scrutiny are carrying out a deep dive task and finish on this as it is of concern.
  • There was a system error on the School Admissions Capita site on primary national offer which has caused a significant amount of fallout. We have now worked through that and the majority of the children affected have been offered places at other schools. We have requested a health check with Capita, who are the provider of the system, which should be completed this week. We are hoping to move systems to liquid logic very soon.
  • We are monitoring and working with Windsor schools as we are seeing a decline in the numbers of children needing places.
  • We are taking a paper to Cabinet tonight proposing a change to how we support post-16 young people with SEND to travel. The proposal is to introduce personal transport budgets from 1st September 2024 in order to continue to support young people in accessing school or college.
  • We are moving forward with a number of roofing projects in schools over the summer. We are also consulting on a new SEND provision and will be taking a paper to Cabinet in June.
  • We have located a potential property in Windsor for a children’s residential home and the outcome of a feasibility study is positive. We are now moving forward with a business case to take the proposal forward for consideration and hopefully political approval.

Kingston and Richmond Executive Director of Children's Services update

Ian Dodds provided an update with the following highlights:

  • Recruitment is fairly positive, we are back up to establishment and have reduced agency workers from 21% to 17%. We have turned off the additional team provided by Equinox and some social workers have moved across to AfC which is positive. 
  • There has been a spike in referrals over the last two months, which is causing significant pressure on the team. Caseloads are improving in Richmond but there still needs to be a reduction going forward. In Kingston caseloads are still high. Demand pressures are on the front end of the system and the restructure of Early Help will hopefully help this as the process is working well. 
  • Family Hhb at the White House is opening in June. We have engaged with children and young people around the design of the building. We are taking a committee paper proposing two further hubs, one in Heatham House and one in Ham Youth and Community Centre, both will have spokes in other areas.
  • Building work on a new family hub has started in the Old Malden Centre in Kingston. We are hoping to open in August/September. A further proposal is going to the People Committee to open a second hub at Dickerage with spokes out to other areas.
  • The SEND Futures plan has been refreshed and we have consolidated the workstreams to three. We are focusing on work that needs to happen at the end of the Safety Valve agreement to maintain the quality of the work that we do within the financial envelope. 
  • In terms of school admissions primary school places are challenging with in year applications high across both boroughs, including overseas applications. There is pressure in some areas in Kingston but also falling rolls in others. There was a reduction of 300 live births in Richmond and 100 in Kingston which will be challenging in the future. In secondary schools we have a shortage of places.
  • We have a delay at the new school in Kingsmeadow due to a slow worm issue and the DfE are in the process of appointing a contractor. It is likely to be 2028 before it opens. 
  • The DfE have chosen a new contractor at Spring School but are still in the process of appointing them. 
  • The SEMH provision in Barnes is on track to be completed by 2025.
  • There is a potential development with the Auriga Trust but this is very early days and in discussion with the DfE.

Chief Operating Officer and Finance Officer executive update,  including Outturn Report

app A: Q4 Board Assurance Framework

app B: Q4 Dashboard

app C: Q4 Finance Update 2023/24

app D: Wellbeing Offer

app E: Strategic Plan

Placements continue to be one of the main pressures. Availability of placements isn't improving. We are also struggling with recruiting foster carers. There is a national push to encourage appropriate kinship placements and this should have positive outcomes as well as support financial sustainability. We are looking at our benefits offer for both kinship and foster care to see if we can make it more appealing.

Inflation seems to be settling but continues to be a really big issue. Most of our placements are not following the retail/consumer price index and we are still seeing requests over the RPI. Some growth has been built into the budget but we need to monitor this closely. Transport remains a risk area as well as the cost of living crisis.

Recruitment and retention is  improving but there are still challenges so requires a continued focus.

The staff wellbeing offer has launched and we are hoping this will be really positive in supporting and motivating our workforce.  The staff survey results are in the process of being analysed but look positive so far.

A soft launch has started for the Strategic Plan and comms will be going out during May / June.

Q4 Quarterly programme update

We are currently tracking progress against 51 key projects. In this quarter, three projects have had a positive direction of travel. These included:

  • Activity to  increase in the number of foster carers which has moved from Red to Amber. 
  • Key activities have included the recruitment campaigns, Foster Carer Fortnight, the appointment of a recruitment officer, taking part in the sub-regional recruitment hub and incentive packages for potential foster carers.
  • Reviewing and strengthening commissioning arrangements (amber to green). This piece of work is now on track. The team is at full complement and have already made an impact on value for money commissions and working on legacy contracts.
  • Strategic Plan (green to complete) as the plan is now signed off and published. 

In terms of projects which remain RAG rated as red:

  • The review of social care delivery models including staffing structures is part of the social care and early help transformation work and the savings have been profiled into late 2024/25.  Following the two pilots which includes:
  • A child and family help model: which will look at alternatively-qualified, highly skilled workers working with child in need cases providing earlier intervention to avoid step up into child protection. 
  • Introduction of social work assistant role to remove administrative burden from social workers.
  • Reduction in reliance on external legal services in RBWM. 
  • Improving the provision of occupational therapy, speech and language and physiotherapy. Work continues to review the model of delivery, funding, and provision of SaLT and OT.  Spot commissioning budgets are being reviewed. This is being tracked through the SEND Partnership Boards.

Finance update

The savings target for 2023/24 across the three boroughs was £5.8m. Of that we have achieved £4.3m which leaves a variance of £1.5m. 

It is worth noting that the overall savings target and that achieved was over double to the previous year and demonstrates the hard work and input to the many teams contributing towards the activities. 

The finance team are working with the boroughs to identify alternative savings and agreeing with each local authority how the pressure can be managed, this includes an element of re-phasing to future years.

We now have our updated Strategic Plan with strategic priorities. This has been timely as has aligned with some of our Council’s strategic documents being refreshed and we have tried to streamline priorities where possible.

We’ve introduced Operational Programme Boards in each operational area which will help to provide oversight and scrutiny of projects, managing resource across the operational area (including new projects), ensuring the project is in line with AfC’s Strategic Plan, and seeing where there’s opportunity to join up areas of work across children’s services. 

The Operational Board meetings are still in their early phases and we are developing a reporting dashboard to accompany the information which we hope to replicate for the Board reports going forward - a more visual way of presenting the information.