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Children, Schools and Families

Electronic Common Assessment Framework

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Kevin Brennan): I am announcing today the support the Government will provide to front-line professionals in children's services by implementing a single national IT system to support the Common Assessment Framework (eCAF).

The Common Assessment Framework (CAF) is a key element of the Every Child Matters programme to transform children's services by supporting more effective prevention and early intervention. Its goal is to provide a standardised approach for practitioners in the holistic assessment of a child's needs and the design of an integrated service to meet those needs.

By facilitating a greater number of early interventions, eCAF will shift the focus from dealing with the consequences of difficulties in children's lives to preventing them from happening in the first place. By facilitating better collaboration between practitioners and encouraging needs-led intervention, eCAF will directly improve the experience of service provision for children and families.

Any given case with a child can involve multiple agencies working across borders, both geographic and organisational. It is, therefore, essential that any supporting mechanism for CAF provides practitioners from different sectors easy access to key information concerning the assessment to allow them to plan, monitor, and review a co-ordinated approach to the delivery of the most appropriate services. eCAF is the response to this need.

eCAF will allow a practitioner to create electronically, store, and share a CAF securely. Completion of CAFs by different agencies and the subsequent exchanges of data between relevant agencies promote multi-agency working and early interventions. The complexities of cross border work are removed, as eCAF provides a consistent approach for all practitioners working in different agencies and locations, thus facilitating the effective and efficient delivery of a coordinated service.

eCAF will only hold information about some (not all) children, with consent, and for a limited period of time. It will offer a systematic means of capturing:

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Children, young people, or where appropriate their parents or carers will be able to ask to see their records and to challenge any inaccuracies, in accordance with Data Protection legislation.

Using eCAF, the assessment process will be enhanced through the removal of unnecessary administration and inherent business issues, allowing practitioners to focus on activities that have the greatest impact. Business issues that eCAF will reduce include unnecessary repeat assessments, inappropriate referrals and inappropriate interventions. Efficiency gains from the reduction of these business issues are expected to yield savings estimated at £150 million over the first eight years from the inception of the national system. We do not intend to reduce funding for children's services, but instead to enable savings realised to be reinvested in more and better services for children and more effective use of staff time. We anticipate that this will enhance staff satisfaction with their jobs.

Using proven technology, the system will be built and implemented on a single nationally, hosted infrastructure that all practitioners will use. Data will be held in a single physical location enabling practitioners to easily work together, accessing the most up-to-date information. The system will have the ability to share data with other case management systems in order to avoid duplication of input when specialist assessments are created. Locally owned systems can be modified to take advantage of this functionality.

The Government will ensure that the eCAF system is secure, and will therefore ensure it complies with rigorous security standards. Access to it will be granted only to authorised users who have undergone appropriate checks, including those provided by the Criminal Records Bureau. Practitioner use of the eCAF system will be audited to ensure information is only accessed where it is necessary for practitioners to do so, and so guard against inappropriate access by authorised users.

Our decision to provide a single national eCAF system has been arrived at using input from stakeholders, the lessons learnt from five local eCAF pilot systems and a comprehensive analysis of eight options, covering a range of variants, from devolved responsibility to a more central approach.

The Government are planning to commit one-off implementation costs estimated to be £44.5 million in total across the next six financial years (including
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VAT)—this includes funding to roll out the system nationally and ensure practitioners are trained to use the system properly. Operating costs, thereafter, will be £6.4 million per year (including VAT). Both set-up and running costs will be funded by central Government, so that the costs to local authorities do not form a pressure on the Council Tax.

Implementation will be led by a dedicated project team within DCSF. The project team will work closely with stakeholders across local authorities, to ensure that developments continue to be relevant and lead to more effective practice.

Communities and Local Government

Leaseholders' Monies

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. Iain Wright): I have published today a consultation paper on Accounting for Leaseholders Monies which sets out proposals to amend the requirements under the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002 (the 2002 Act) for landlords to provide a regular statement of account for service charges to their tenants and for service charge monies to be held in separate designated bank accounts. A copy of the paper has been placed in the Library.

The Government's view is that service charge payers are entitled to receive a certain minimum level of accounting information about the monies they provide. Measures contained in the 2002 Act set out to provide greater transparency and protection for service charge monies.

Following the introduction of the 2002 Act further consultation took place with stakeholders on the content of the regulations that would provide the specific detail of how the accounting provisions would operate. A full public consultation was undertaken in June 2004. Following detailed consideration of the responses to the June 2004 paper it has been decided that our proposals for the content of the regular statement of account, requirements of the certification process and for the holding of service charges in a separate account should be revised. This was in order to examine fully whether the objectives behind the legislation could be achieved without creating unnecessary burdens upon landlords and ultimately additional charges for leaseholders that were highlighted as arising under previous proposals.

The consultation runs until 4 October 2007 and the Government would welcome responses to their proposals up until that date.

Communities and Local Government

Local Government

The Minister for Local Government (John Healey): On 27 March 2007 my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East and Saddleworth (Mr. Woolas), the then Minister for Local Government, announced that 16 of the 26 proposals from local authorities for the creation of unitary local government would proceed to stakeholder consultation. These proposals were in response to our “Invitation to Councils” issued on 26 October 2006.

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The stakeholder consultation ended on 22 June. Since then we have reassessed the 16 proposals against the five criteria in our original invitation, having regard to all the further material and representations received as a result of that consultation and to all other currently available relevant information.

These five criteria are that change to future unitary structures must be affordable, and be supported by a broad cross-section of partners and stakeholders; and the future structures must provide strong, effective and accountable strategic leadership, deliver genuine opportunities for neighbourhood flexibility and empowerment, and deliver value for money and equity on public services.

My right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State, has now decided to proceed as follows.

She is minded to implement the nine unitary proposals listed in table 1 below, if and when the necessary legislative provisions in the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill, which passed this House on 22 May and is currently being considered in the other place, are enacted.

Her judgment is that there is a reasonable likelihood that all these proposals, if implemented, would achieve the outcomes specified by the five criteria, and we believe we can afford to implement them all. We do not therefore need to prioritise these proposals in order to decide which ones to implement, as explained in the written statement on 27 March.

These new unitaries, as they move towards implementation, will need to take into account our developing agenda for empowering citizens and communities and for stronger economic leadership, as set out in the Government’s Green Paper, “Governance, of Britain”, published on 3 July, and the review of sub-national economic development and regeneration, published on 17 July. Implementation will also need to take into account the recommendations of our Councillors Commission, when it reports in November.

We recognise on the basis of the available information that in four cases - the proposals from Bedford borough council, Chester city council, Exeter city council, and Ipswich borough council—there are risks to their achieving the outcomes specified by the affordability criterion. Accordingly, we are asking these councils to undertake further work and submit additional information on the financial viability of their proposals. We will have regard to this information along with all other relevant available information before taking final decisions, if and when the Bill is enacted.

Implementing Bedford borough’s proposal means that we must consider the future local government structures for the remaining county area. We are satisfied that this area needs unitary local government, and we intend formally to invite all the other councils in Bedfordshire to propose a unitary solution that would meet our five criteria for that remaining area.

Once implemented these nine proposals, on the basis of councils’ current estimates, will save over £150 million annually, giving councils opportunities for improved services and lower council taxes. The proposals open the door to creating new flagship councils which can lead the way on meeting today’s challenges of promoting prosperity, empowering citizens and communities, and modernising local service delivery.

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Table — 1 Proposals we are Minded to Implement

Councils Submitting Proposals

Proposed unitary structure

Bedford Borough Council

Bedford Unitary

Chester City Council

2 Unitary Cheshire

Cornwall County Council

County Unitary

Durham County Council

County Unitary

Exeter City Council

Exeter Unitary

Ipswich Borough Council

Ipswich Unitary

Northumberland County Council

County Unitary

Shropshire County Council

County Unitary

Wiltshire County Council

County Unitary

In addition, the Secretary of State is minded to request the Boundary Committee of the Electoral Commission to advise on Norwich city council’s proposal, if and when the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill is enacted. She intends to specify in her request that the matters on which the Committee’s advice is sought include whether for the areas affected by this proposal—Norwich city and the remaining Norfolk area—there could be alternative unitary solutions involving boundary changes that would meet the five criteria set out in the original invitation.

She judges there is not a reasonable likelihood of Norwich city council’s proposal, based on the city’s current boundaries, if it were to be implemented, achieving all the outcomes specified by the five criteria, particularly the affordability criterion, We believe having regard to the circumstances of Norwich that alternative proposals based on revised city boundaries would achieve these outcomes.

Further, the Secretary of State is minded not to implement the six unitary proposals which were subject to stakeholder consultation and are listed in table 2 below.

Table — 2 Proposals we are not Minded to Implement

Councils Submitting Proposals

Proposed unitary structure

Bedfordshire County Council

County Unitary

Cheshire County Council

County Unitary

Cumbria Council

County Unitary

Northumberland Districts

2 unitary Northumberland

North Yorkshire County Council

County Unitary

Somerset County Council

County Unitary

For two of these proposals—from Bedfordshire county council and Cheshire county council we judge there is a reasonable likelihood that, if implemented, they would achieve the outcomes specified by the five criteria. However, these proposals are alternatives to unitary proposals that the Secretary of State is minded to implement as we believe these latter proposals are likely to deliver to a greater extent the outcomes on leadership, neighbourhood empowerment, and public services than the proposals from the county councils. For the remaining four proposals we judge there is not a reasonable likelihood of them, if implemented, achieving the outcomes specified by all the five criteria.

I also confirm that we remain minded not to implement the 10 proposals which my hon. Friend announced in March would not proceed to stakeholder consultation.

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In all cases where unitary proposals are not proceeding, all the councils involved now need to put in place new collaborative ways of working together to promote the prosperity of their local areas, empower their citizens and communities, and modernise local service delivery. In such areas we will look to the councils together to achieve the same level of outcomes and efficiency gains as the highest performing unitary councils.

The five pathfinder proposals from councils in Buckinghamshire, Dorset, Hertfordshire, Lincolnshire, and Suffolk should, as they are taken forward and develop, lead the way for all councils in remaining two tier areas to deliver better services and achieve efficiency gains.

Accordingly, I am today informing the pathfinder councils that we wish to work with them with a view to their pioneering new and innovative models of two tier working as explained in our White Paper “Strong and Prosperous Communities: The Local Government White Paper” (Cm 6939-1). As indicated in the White Paper we intend these pathfinders to be subject to independent long-term evaluation. This evaluation, reporting at regular intervals, will look at both the processes of changing to new governance models and at the results the new models are delivering.

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