Liberal Democrats appear to be at odds over the newly merged Kingston and Richmond children's services company Achieving for Children.

Richmond’s Lib Dem leader Stephen Knight has said the service could be returned to council hands if the party won control of both boroughs in the upcoming local elections on May 22.

Kingston and Richmond authorities have spent £1.5m settting up Achieving for Children as a social enterprise company earlier this year on the back of Kingston Council’s safeguarding being rated as inadequate two years in a row by Ofsted.

Coun Knight, a London Assembly member, said: “We are very happy with the joining up of the two boroughs – lots of positives about that.

“What we are not happy with is it being a private sector company. It needs to be part of the public sector rather than a company which is commercially trading.”

He said an agreement could be struck up to bring children’s services back into council control. This has been included in the Richmond Liberal Democrat manifesto.

It reads: “We will, therefore, work with Kingston Council to bring the service and its staff back into the public sector fold, under the direct control of elected councillors from both borough.”

But his opposite number, leader of Kingston Council councillor Liz Green, said it would be a “backward” step.

She said: “We are fully behind Achieving for Children as a social enterprise.

“We would not have entered into it otherwise. We would not want to go backwards.

"Political parties can have different ideas.”

Meanwhile, a Kingston University professor and former director of adult and community services, says creating Achieving for Children could lead to privatisation.

Ray Jones praised the merger by Richmond and Kingston, saying there were “good people”, but said: “I think there’s every danger it will be a Trojan horse.

He said: “It opens up the floodgates for the private sector to move in. I think it will lead to an increasing fragmentation across children’s services when what we know is we need consistency and collaboration.

“What we’re doing is opening it up to competition.”