Campaigners criticise lack of transparency in market study on children’s social care

A children’s rights charity submits a complaint to the Information Commissioner’s Office following the Competition and Market Authority’s refusal to release correspondence it had with public authorities.

08/07/21

Campaigners criticise lack of transparency in market study on children’s social care

Children’s rights charity Article 39 has submitted a complaint to the Information Commissioner’s Office as the Competition and Market Authority (CMA) rejects requests to release correspondence it had with a number of public bodies before launching its study into the children’s social care market.

The charity had asked for all correspondence between 1 January 2020 and 12 March 2021 between the CMA and the Department for Education, the Chair of the Children’s Social Care Review Josh MacAlister, and the Children’s Commissioners for Scotland and Wales.

The CMA has confirmed that it has correspondence from the specified bodies, but says its effectiveness will be “substantially impaired” if it is unable to have confidential communications ahead of launching market studies.

However, campaigners say that the correspondence requested only relates to public authorities who themselves are subject to the Freedom of Information Act, and so would already be operating in a culture of transparency and accountability.

Carolyne Willow, Director of Article 39, said there is “huge” public interest in the study and its relation to profit-making around children’s homes.

“It is only right that correspondence between this body and the Department for Education and the Chair of the Children’s Social Care Review is released, so we can see how well children’s rights were considered at the early stages,” Willow said.

In its complaint to the Information Commissioner, Article 39 says that the CMA has not considered the high level of public concern about the degree of profit made in children’s social care and the importance of transparency in the scoping of the market study.

In January Josh MacAlister, then Chief Executive of Frontline and now Chair of a wide-ranging review of children’s social care in England, wrote to CMA Chief Executive Andrea Coscelli saying an investigation by the authority would “provide invaluable evidence to my review”.

The CMA launched its study of children’s social care provision in March this year to establish why a lack of availability and increasing costs could be leading to the needs of children in care not being met.

The CMA, a non-ministerial Government department responsible for preventing and reducing anti-competitive activities and strengthening business competition, said at the time that it is in a unique position to “lift the lid on this complex sector” and find solutions to problems it uncovers.

Around 16,000 children currently live in residential care, including children’s homes and independent or semi-independent living accommodation. In England, roughly seven in ten children in care are placed in homes run by the private sector, with the figure in Wales rising to 78%.

According to data from the National Centre for Excellence in Residential Childcare, costs charged to local authorities for independent provision of children’s homes have soared by 40% from £2841 per week on average in 2013, to £3970 per week on average in 2019.

Picture: Andrea Coscelli, CEO, Competitions and Markets Authority

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