£50,000 spent on children's services consultation in Bucks

County Hall, Aylesbury
County Hall, Aylesbury

Questions have been asked as to why Bucks County Council has spent tens of thousands of pounds on hiring an independent company to help with a consultation into the future of the county's children’s services.

The council 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.

The county council 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 the county council 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 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 crèche 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 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 council meeting last month councillor for Aylesbury South West, Niknam Hussain, said the Walton Court children’s centre appears to be “non-existent”.

However leader of the Liberal Democrats on the county council 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, but 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.”