On 6th July 2016 the House of Lords continued to consider the Government’s Children and Social Work Bill in Committee. The Bishop of Durham, Rt Revd Paul Butler, co-sponsored and spoke in support of an amendment on profit-making and children’s social services functions. The amendment was withdrawn following debate. The Bishop said:
The Lord Bishop of Durham: My Lords, I was pleased to add my name to this amendment and I support the arguments that have been put by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. I want to add that this is about the best interests of the child, and children are the only ones who should profit from anything here. However, I add another concern. When we come to debate Clause 15, and the possibility of exemptions, I am slightly concerned that, if this measure is not in the Bill, such exemptions might be used as a way of circumventing the issue around profit and not for profit. I lend my support to this amendment.
The text of the amendment:
92A: After Clause 9, insert the following new Clause—
“Profit-making and children’s social services functions
(1) Social services functions conferred on or exercisable by a local authority so far as those functions relate to children shall not be discharged by a body corporate that is carried on for profit.(2) “Social services functions” has the meaning given by section 1A of the Local Authority Social Services Act 1970.”
Introducing the amendment, Crossbench Peer Lord Ramsbotham said:
I acknowledge that an amendment that seeks to give extra force to an existing ban on profit-making in children’s services by regulation by enshrining it in primary legislation does not sit easily in the group of clauses headed, “Care and adoption proceedings in England and Wales”, but neither does any fear that the Government might use Section 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 2008 in this regard, which enables the social care functions of a local authority to be discharged by a body corporate. That would not sit easily with partners such as the Association of Directors of Children’s Services and many other organisations, which rejected any profit motive in the provision of children’s services in the consultation that the Government held in 2014 on draft regulations concerning a significant extension to the children’s service functions that could be outsourced. In its response, the association said:
“Decisions taken about a child’s life should only ever be based on what is in the best interests of the child as assessed by skilled and qualified social workers and the courts system. These decisions cannot, and must not, be subordinate to the pursuit of financial profit”.
In their response, the Government said:
“The proposals were concerned with improving the quality of children’s services rather than savings, ‘privatisation’ or profit-making”.
They inserted a prohibition on profit-making into the final regulations, which extended the children’s services functions that could be outsourced.
Local authorities are living in hard financial times that are likely to get harder rather than easier, as many noble Lords have pointed out. I do not believe that a single penny of what is allocated to protecting children and young people and keeping them safe should be diverted from that purpose. In ideal circumstances, of course, such services should be funded adequately to ensure that they are effective and timely, but what is absolutely clear is that no one should profit out of that allocation other than children.
The Minister said at Second Reading that the Government had no intention of removing the ban on profit in child protection. However, the 2014 regulations and Section 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 2008 allow the outsourcing of many other children’s services functions. I would be grateful if the Minister clarified exactly what the Government’s position is regarding a profit ban on children’s services. Regulations are easier to circumvent than primary legislation, which is where I believe any ban should be. I beg to move.