Leading think-tank calls to dump central advisers

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Efforts to create effective new local authority children's services departments are being undermined by the plethora of central government advisers monitoring them, a think-tank has warned.

In a report on reforming children's services, Demos, which describes itself as "the think-tank for everyday democracy", described an ongoing war of attrition between central and local government that "can only have negative consequences for young people". It called on central government to abandon its "command and control" approach and said local authorities should be able to commission advice as and when they need it.

The report also called for changes to inspections to allow local authorities and schools to get more from the process. Demos is highly critical of the large number of central government advisers assigned to local authorities. It gives the example of one children's service department that had 19 separate advisers working with it on everything from Sure Start to drugs and the primary strategy.

Funding given by the Government to local authorities for a wide range of activities and policy goals came with an "adviser" attached, Demos found. Its report said: "The key point here is the serious damage to the relationship between central and local government that is being caused by the present lack of clarity surrounding these 'advisory' roles. As it stands, many roles combine advice and performance management, meaning that authorities can feel unsure whether they are being advised or monitored at any given moment."

The result was defensive or even adversarial relationships between the two tiers of government, Demos argued.

The full report, The leadership imperative: reforming children's services from the ground up is available at www.demos.co.uk

(TES, 2 December 2005)

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