What issues should local authorities consider when establishing a regional adoption agency? Olwen Dutton explains.
In line with the Government’s aim to see all local authorities with adoption responsibilities participating in regional adoption agencies (RAAs) by 2020, the Department for Education has approved the setting up of five new adoption agencies involving a total of 17 councils.
With this ongoing shift in service delivery, these are our top considerations for councils:
- The Vision: is it consistent across all the councils involved? Has there been engagement with key voluntary adoption agencies active locally and regionally? As with any collaboration, the cultural and strategic fit between councils and VAAs can make or break the venture.
- Are there any Children’s Trusts involved in managing children’s services for any of the councils? Their ongoing involvement once the RAA is up and running will need to be documented and fit with the legal form selected.
- Legal Form: this could be a hosted service model through a joint committee or the creation of a jointly owned entity. As part of this, early consideration should be given to how decision making will work and who will be responsible for what decisions (including where decisions will be delegated).
- Procurement: in both models compliance with the public procurement regime will be necessary. Adoption services fall within the Light Touch Regime, so do your arrangements comply with Regulation 12, Public Contracts Regulations 2015 – whether Teckal or Hamburg Waste co-operation?
- Voluntary adoption agency involvement: Cross-sector collaboration is an expectation. Is there a need to procure this if the agency will be providing services to the RAA?
- Staff: the RAA’s staffing requirements need to be identified at an early stage to ensure both proper consultation and buy-in from staff but also compliance with TUPE. Ongoing pension provision and responsibility for past and future pension liabilities will need to be factored in.
- Assets: what assets is the RAA going to need to function? This could be anything from office space, to server capacity and mobile phones. Identify what assets each council has for the service, what can be dispensed with and what can transfer (including the basis upon which it will transfer or be made available to the RAA – taking into account State-aid rules where they apply).
- Support Services: which council or councils is/are best placed to support the operation of the RAA? In the case of a hosted joint committee, this will most likely be the host council, but both models could include a mixture of councils providing different support. How will the councils account for this support?
- Regulatory compliance: consider what each council’s current relationship is with OFSTED and other regulators. Is there anything that the new RAA would need to factor into service delivery? The RAA will need to engage with OFSTED and ensure that it has all correct consents in place.
- State aid: unlikely to be an issue, but once legal form and structure of service delivery and support are known then advice should be obtained to ensure there is full State-aid compliance.