Public sector

Social enterprise case study: Achieving for Children

Guy Clifton Guy Clifton

England’s first council-owned social enterprise to deliver a full range of children’s services.

Achieving for Children (AfC) is a social enterprise company launched in April 2014 by Kingston and Richmond Councils to provide their children’s services. AfC provides bespoke children’s social care and education support services to other local authorities, schools and partners in the education, health, social care and criminal justice sectors. It is the first council-owned social enterprise in the country to deliver the full range of children’s services

The key factor for improving services was establishing a separate organisation with the freedom and discretion to genuinely do things differently. AfC is legally registered as a community interest company. It is jointly owned by the two founding boroughs. It is overseen by a board of directors and non-executive directors brought in from a range of industries and professions to bring insights and expertise to the company from outside the children’s services sector.

Working together enabled the two councils to reduce costs and increase the resilience of the service. The CIC status has been a really positive aspect. It has enabled AfC to attract new grants and sources of income which would not have been open to them as a local authority. Staff have also identified with the not for profit status of a CIC, which has helped to retain and attract staff.

However, there were some concerns around ‘stealth privatisation’. AfC’s approach has been to retain a public sector ethos while introducing more private sector discipline which has been helpful in reducing costs. The asset lock through the CIC provided important assurance that the assets stay with the community.

Setting up a social enterprise can be complex so AfC obtained significant professional advice, covering transfer to the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS), VAT and corporation tax. It also sought legal advice given AfC had to work through each statutory responsibility for a Director of Children’s Services to establish which ones could be transferred and which ones couldn’t.

The CIC model had political support from the outset, and having Teckal status restricts AfC’s ability to trade externally and therefore become too commercial. There were challenges in having to merge different organisational cultures, but strong leadership overcame these. 

Working together enabled the two councils to reduce costs and increase the resilience of the service.

There were significant benefits in having a shadow management team before AfC actually went live. This ensured that the new organisation could hit the ground running. Change has still taken a while, but people now talk about AfC rather than the council they worked for before. Fewer layers of decision making allows things to get done more quickly.

Finance, marketing and communication is all done in-house, with procurement, IT and HR provided by the councils through a service-level agreement. Robust governance and financial management arrangements are in place, with regular reporting back to the council owners.

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For more information on setting up a social enterprise contact Vivien Holland