Ques­tions over £55k bill for chil­dren’s cen­tre con­sul­tants

Campaigners call for greater trans­parency but op­po­si­tion coun­cil­lors say it is a ‘rea­son­able price to pay’

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - NEWS -

Bucks County Council (BCC) has been in­ves­ti­gat­ing an over­haul of its Early Help ser­vice - which sup­ports young peo­ple up to the age of 18 - in­clud­ing the po­ten­tial clo­sure of the 35 chil­dren’s cen­tres in the county.

The ini­tial pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion was aban­doned in March af­ter con­cerns were raised over the qual­ity of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

BCC then hired independent com­pany BMG Re­search to help run the sec­ond round of talks - with the new con­sul­ta­tion ex­pected to start in Oc­to­ber. This week, fig­ures re­vealed fol­low­ing a Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Re­quest found BCC spent £50,000 on hir­ing BMG Re­search, rais­ing ques­tions as to why tens of thou­sands of pounds have been spent on the con­sul­ta­tion stages.

Lead cam­paigner Alka Dass, who ob­tained the fig­ures from BCC, also called for more light to be shed on what ser­vices the chil­dren’s cen­tres should cur­rently be run­ning - af­ter plans to re­place them with nine hubs were called off in March. She said: “BMG Re­search are very good, and they took on our ad­vice about in­clud­ing a creche fa­cil­ity for the chil­dren. But it is a lot of money to spend just to get to a pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion. There doesn’t seem to be any strat­egy be­hind what they are do­ing. They should be in a po­si­tion where they can share data with us and they should be able to tell us what ser­vices the cen­tres are cur­rently de­liv­er­ing.”

Con­cerns have also been raised by coun­cil­lors that it is still not clear what fu­ture plans are for the dozens of chil­dren’s cen­tres across the county.

Speak­ing at a meet­ing of BCC on Thurs­day, July 26, coun­cil­lor for Ayles­bury South West, Nik­nam Hus­sain, said the Wal­ton Court chil­dren’s cen­tre ap­pears to be “non-ex­is­tent”.

How­ever leader of Lib­eral Democrats on BCC, Steven Lam­bert, said he be­lieves £50,000 is a “rea­son­able price to pay” for an independent re­view.

He said: “The county council is go­ing on a long jour­ney with looked af­ter chil­dren but also how it com­mu­ni­cates with chil­dren and fam­i­lies who are hard to reach.

“I think it is right to spend the money so we can get an independent view of what ser­vices users need and want.

“There are peo­ple that can stand up for them­selves, and that is re­ally good, we are try­ing to reach the peo­ple we can’t reach. There are fam­i­lies who need the ser­vices but are not ac­cess­ing them.”

Cab­i­net mem­ber for chil­dren’s ser­vices, War­ren Whyte, said the cost of the con­tract with BMG is “pro­por­tion­ate” in the con­text of the Early Help ser­vices - which cost around £10 mil­lion per year to run.

He said: “The Early Help ser­vices are vi­tal to those fam­i­lies most in need of help in Buck­ing­hamshire and it is our re­spon­si­bil­ity to put in place the best pos­si­ble ser­vices with the re­sources avail­able.

“With that in mind we de­cided the best way to carry out the re­search and con­sul­ta­tion on this oc­ca­sion was to get spe­cial­ist, im­par­tial sup­port and ad­vice from an independent re­search agency.”

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