‘Will we get half a service?’ – Serious concerns were raised about the plan to merge Stockport and Tameside children’s services

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Plans to merge services for children in Stockport and Tameside in a bid to “improve life chances” for young people have been seriously questioned.

A new report on how the two counties will work more closely to support children and families was recently presented to a Stockport council scrutiny committee.

The document sets out how authorities will seek to ‘provide the best possible services with shrinking budgets’, with an emphasis on collaboration and partnerships.

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But Conservative Councilor Linda Holt was unconvinced and “very, very concerned” about the report.

She told the meeting that while the document acknowledged shared experience and economies of scale, it “contained no performance data at all.”

“How can we know that bringing together two counties with different challenges will make things better and not result in limited resources, without meeting the individual needs of schools in both counties,” said Holt County.

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“These are the things that really concern me.”

The report outlines a shared ambition to “develop a school improvement model between both authorities”.

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Initially it would focus on early years education and involves the creation of four new posts to be ‘half funded by each authority’.

This prompted more questions from Count Holt.

“How many childcare and early years settings are there in both authorities? Are we going to overextend ourselves? she said.

“That’s pretty worrying.”

Addressing Tim Bowman, deputy director of education, he added: “You talk about paying half. Is that going to result in half a serve?

“We know that Tameside and Stockport are doing well in service areas now, and is there any evidence of the benefit of sharing this best practice?

Councilwoman Linda Holt.

“He says there are capacity and resource challenges. What exactly are these capacity and resource challenges?”

Mr. Bowman told the committee that a ‘squeeze’ in school budgets meant bosses ‘don’t have all the resources that we would like to meet the challenges that we have’.

And he said “increasing pressure on local authority finances” – Stockport has to close a £10m budget deficit next year – was having an impact on plans to improve schools.

“Local authorities at the moment receive a grant to fulfill their school improvement duties,” he said.

“The government is phasing out that subsidy, so it will be 50 percent less next year and gone the year after.

“An example of the investment that local authorities used to make to fulfill their responsibilities to schools has been squeezed in recent years.”

Mr Bowman added that while there had been a huge increase in the number of academic schools, councils still had “very significant statutory responsibilities”.

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He continued: “That squeeze, particularly on the resources that local authorities have, but not on statutory responsibilities, puts us in a space where we want to think about doing things differently.”

“Doing things differently is always about making sure that we can have as many staff on the ground working directly with schools or children and families to impact improvements.”

Mr. Bowman also assured Coun Holt that the Tameside and Stockport data would be included in future committee updates.

Stockport council’s children and families scrutiny committee met on Wednesday night (19 Jan).

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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