Northamptonshire County Council 'underpaying childminders'

One Angel Square, Northamptonshire County Council HQ
Image caption The government said the council's children's services was failing to perform "to an adequate standard" when it began overseeing the service last year

A crisis-hit council has been underpaying childminders and nurseries by thousands of pounds and regularly paying them late, a meeting was told.

The government stepped in last year to oversee children's services at cash-strapped Northamptonshire County Council after a critical Ofsted report.

A meeting on Wednesday heard there had been underpayment problems to early years providers for two years.

The councillor for children's services said she had apologised.

A special scrutiny meeting at county hall heard the problems stemmed from a new payment system brought in two years ago, the Local Democracy Reporting Service said.

The service had also breached personal data regulations by giving out dates of birth, addresses and national insurance numbers of families to strangers, the meeting was told.

'Listen to us'

Nursery owner Hayley Hannan asked councillors and officers: "Why aren't you helping us? We are here raising your children.

"You have got to listen to us. Otherwise you are going to have serious issues - because we are not taking it any more."

Tom Shea, who has a number of nurseries and employs more than 200 staff, said some people were "giving up" being child minders.

The Conservative-run authority is due to be scrapped in 2020, along with seven other Northamptonshire borough and district councils, to make way for two new unitary authorities.

New director of children's services Sally Hodges, who has only been in post for three weeks, said the early years payment issue was one of her top priorities.

She said: "If I increase the capacity in that service I will need to reduce it somewhere else. That needs to be on the table."

Cllr Victoria Perry, who was the councillor responsible for children's services until January, said she had been told by a former director of children's services the new system had been brought in to save staffing costs and went live without being tested.

Recommendations to be put to the cabinet by the scrutiny committee following the meeting include repaying people immediately and in one lump sum.

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