Agenda item

Provision of children centre service in the Bromyard area

To consider proposals for the provision of the Council’s early help children’s centre service for the Bromyard area from 1 April 2022.


The Children’s Commissioning Manager introduced the report the purpose of which was to consider proposals for the provision of Early Help Children’s Centre Service for the Bromyard area from 1 April 2022.


During discussion the following principal points were noted:


·        Over the last few years the landscape in which the Council was operating had changed considerably and it had bought about an opportunity to take a more strategic approach to its provision of children’s centre services in all parts of the County, not just the Bromyard area.

·        The last comprehensive review of Children’s Centre Services was nearly a decade ago, in 2012/13.

·        Work on a new Early Years Strategy was expected to be completed next year and this would inform the specification for Children’s Centre Services in the long term.

·        The new national Start for Life policy required that services be co-designed with parents and carers so there would be extensive consultation with them as part of developing the new Early Years Strategy.


The Chairperson read a statement from the local member for Bromyard Bringsty. This queried:


·        whether there were any other parties interested in providing the service when the contract was extended;

·        the scoring mechanism proposed for the new tender process and whether charitable institutions might be awarded funding to cover their costs in replying to such a tender;

·        the cost to the authority in tendering such a small contract;

·        whether the actions recommended by the scrutiny committee in January had been followed up and what engagement had taken place with the current provider;

·        how the relationship with the current provider would be improved.


The statement also highlighted the local support for the current provider and the range of related services offered. The importance of these services was stressed as being above any uniformity of delivery and contractual process.


The local member for Bromyard West spoke on the proposal and raised the principal points below:


·        that it was unclear how the proposal to recommission the services in this way would benefit young families in the Bromyard area;

·        that the current provider, with the range of related services provided, brought added value to the contract;

·        there appeared to be a lack of research underpinning the proposal;

·        it was unclear how the relationship between the commissioning team and the service provider would be improved.


During the debate and in the process of questioning officers in attendance the Committee noted the principal points below:


·        Members wanted to know how recommissioning this work was of benefit to the young people of Bromyard as it seemed more focussed on process and aligning with Government policy rather than delivering a service to the people who needed it.

·        KPIs were set out in a service specification that sat behind a contract and that was normally published as part of the tender process.

·        It was normal procedure to have quarterly contract meetings to ensure that everything was working as it should be and KPIs were being met.

·        A distinction was made between the Children’s Centre Service which was an early help service delivered where the need was, often in the home or in a community setting, as compared to the physical building that it sometimes operated from.

·        There was no proposal to remove the service but the Council was required to go through a tender process because of the Council’s own procurement rules, as approved by the Audit and Governance Committee.

·        The Council could be subject to challenge from other providers if it did not go through a tender process.

·        Members asked whether a further extension to the existing contract would be permitted within the contract procedure rules.

·        It seemed to be a retrograde step to throw in, at a difficult point in time for Children’s Services, a destabilising process when things were working well with the current provider.

·        Any competitive exercise was intended to find the best for the children of Bromyard and was not a reflection on the current provider.

·        Current exemptions to the procurement rules, for example extreme urgency or absence of competition, were not applicable in this case.

·        Both Early Help and Early Years services operated from the Hope Centre. Early Help was a term used to describe the process of taking action early and as soon as possible to tackle problems and issues emerging for children, young people and their families, and this included the Children’s Centre Service.  Early Years referred to children from the ages of 0-5 and their education and included childminders, preschools, nurseries and school reception classes all of which were regulated by Ofsted.

·        It was unusual to have such level of involvement from Scrutiny in a commercial and contractual arrangement and the Committee needed to be careful about not getting too involved with who the providers were.


Actions arising:


·        The Children’s Commissioning Manager to circulate to the Committee the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) of the Children’s Centre Service contracts, with comparisons of the different providers used within the County.


·        The Deputy Monitoring Officer to provide the Committee with the current procurement rules, including the guidance on current exemptions to these rules.


·        Information on the Friends of Ledbury to be forwarded to the Committee.



The recommendations below were proposed and seconded and carried unanimously.


The Committee notes the proposals to recommission the provision of the Children’s Centre Service in the Bromyard area for two years and makes the following recommendations to enhance the effectiveness of the plans:  


(a)   That the Executive consider if an exemption to the contract procedure rules should be applied for.


(b)   That the Executive consider whether further market testing should be carried out to evidence if there are any other potential providers and include details of what they will be asked to tender for.


(c)   That evidence be provided on how discontinuing services from an established provider impacts those currently using the service.


(d)   The Committee receive testimony from the Hope Centre and consider a visit there to understand the activities provided.



The meeting was adjourned and reconvened at 4:20 pm. Mr James and Mr Pratley left the meeting at this point.

Supporting documents: