Kent County Council hires consultancy Newton Europe for £5.5m to help cut cost of looking after vulnerable children

Kent County Council has defended the appointment of consultants at a cost of £5.5 million to help it cut the costs of looking after vulnerable children.

The contract has been awarded to consultants Newton Europe, who aleady work for KCC to provide help on how to save money spent on adult care.

KCC did not have an open competition for the latest contract in which other companies could have bid, with the authority choosing instead a single procurement process.

County Hall in Maidstone, KCC's headquarters
County Hall in Maidstone, KCC's headquarters

Social services chiefs are confident the work done by the company will not lead to a poorer quality of care.

Cllr Peter Oakford (Con), cabinet member for specialist children’s services, said: “I would hope that the work we are doing with Newton Europe will make children’s services more efficient.

"We have worked with them for some time [on adult care]. I feel extremely confident that they will deliver what we want to do.”

The consultancy would not have a direct involvement in frontline care but would offer strategic help and would get paid on a results basis, he added.

KCC cabinet member Peter Oakford
KCC cabinet member Peter Oakford

“They have experience in change management. They are looking at how practitioners work and how we deliver services.”

The company was awarded a £5.4m contract in 2013 to oversee adult care services amid some controversy. However, since that time, KCC says changes the company introduced have already saved it £30m.

Opposition Labour group leader Cllr Gordon Cowan said it was unclear what Newton Europe could do on some of the long-standing problems facing KCC, such as recruitment and a reliance on agency staff.

“What are Newton Europe going to do that we haven’t already tried in areas like recruitment? I cannot see them being able to wave a magic wand...” - Cllr Gordon Cowan

Mr Cowan said: “What are Newton Europe going to do that we haven’t already tried in areas like recruitment? I cannot see them being able to wave a magic wand.”

A report setting out the arrangement with Newton Europe says KCC aims to save between £60m and £95.9m over the next three years.

Newton Europe will, says the report, focus on “reducing the need for expensive specialist and institutionalising services".

The company would get paid on results with KCC only paying the full amount if it meets its saving target.

KCC, in common with many other councils, has faced a long-standing problem with recruitment and has had to rely on interim and agency staff to plug vacancies.

According to a report last December, the staffing budget for children’s services was £1.6m overspent because of the use of agency social workers.

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