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Richmond's children's services merger under the microscope
Councillors clashed over the future of children’s services at a meeting called to debate what was described as the most important issue in the borough.
Richmond’s Liberal Democrats called an extraordinary council meeting on Tuesday due to fears about turning children’s services into an independent social enterprise after merging with Kingston.
Opposition members supported the merge with Kingston but were worried children’s services would be outsourced to a private contractor, which they claimed would be less accountable.
Plans to merge the services under one jointly owned company, Achieving for Children, are already under way.
Leader of the opposition Councillor Stephen Knight said: “We do not believe these are responsibilities that should be outsourced or can be delegated to a third party provider.
“That is something which we have genuine concerns about and we believe is entirely wrong for this type of service.
“As a democrat I do believe that council services should be directly accountable to politicians.
“If there is a failure it will be far more difficult for the council to intervene directly in order to sort these problems out.”
Councillor Malcolm Eady said: “The change to the children’s services is the most important thing that has come to this council in a very long time.
“The thought of our specialised children’s services work being at arm’s length from the council horrifies me.”
Conservative members said the council would remain directly accountable for children’s services and said there was a possibility of having separate safeguarding officers for each borough.
Conservative Councillor Paul Hodgins said the Lib Dems were simply looking for a campaign in the run up to the next election.
He said: “What is very much misrepresented is that we have always been very clear is that accountability stays with the council. We will make decisions where necessary. That accountability stays with us.”
Council leader Lord True said there was no intention to outsource children’s services to a private contractor at this time but said it would be possible in the future.
He said: “We have got one of the best performing education and children’s services. We should keep our options for the future open.”