VULNERABLE children could have been put at risk by Leeds City Council’s “administrative oversight”, according to the head of a care watchdog in the city.
Coun Alan Lamb claims the authority almost ran out of time to renew a £25m contract to provide residential care for looked after children across Yorkshire.
A report from council officers said the decision to extend the contract by one year had to be taken before Friday this week, otherwise the contract would then expire, leading to “uncoordinated care” across the region.
As part of the agreement, Coun Lamb had to give his permission as chair of the authority’s children and families scrutiny board – but he felt he was put in an impossible position.
Coun Lamb is now insisting that senior officers and politicians attend his scrutiny board to explain how such an important decision was “apparently forgotten about” and for steps to be taken so it does not happen again.
He said: “I am alarmed that this situation was allowed to arise.
“I was left with little option but to give my approval for the department to take this decision now, because to delay could have had serious implications for the care of vulnerable children across the whole region.
“It is astonishing that a decision about the extension of a contract of this size and importance was allowed to get right down to the wire in this way.
“As a result of the special urgency procedure, this decision has not received the level of scrutiny it would normally receive.
“This is a huge contract and there has been no oversight to check that we are getting value for money, or that the provisions are the best we can get for our most vulnerable children."
The contract, known as the White Rose Children Looked After Interim Residential Framework, links local authorities with providers of children’s residential care to the young people placed.
It is overseen by Leeds City Council and provides services for Barnsley, Bradford, Calderdale, Doncaster, East Riding, Hull, Kirklees, Leeds, North Lincs, North East Lincs, Rotherham, Sheffield, Wakefield and York councils.
The report released by the council claimed that, had the decision not been taken: “Purchases of residential care would continue across the region in an uncoordinated fashion with the market place seen to lead on the nature and quality of the provision.”
It added: “The extension of this framework contract for residential care detailed in this report is urgent and cannot be delayed.
“Due to an administrative oversight the timeline for the decision was not given the appropriate attention it required.
“This decision confirms approval for the extension of the contract.”
Steve Walker, the council’s director of children and families, said: “The White Rose Framework is an innovative and successful contract for commissioning residential and foster placements, which was due to be extended. Unfortunately the report requesting this extension was not put into the process within the required timescales meaning that we needed to use special urgency procedure.
“This appears to be a rare and unfortunate administrative error and we are undertaking a review to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. At no stage was public money or the safety of children at risk, but clearly we do not want this to happen again and the review will assess what happened and recommend how to avoid a recurrence.”