WHO’S in charge here? That’s the question some members of the cross-Dorset police and crime panel are asking.

Several committee members and the police and crime commissioner claim that councillors appear to be now taking a back seat in some decision-making.

Purbeck councillor Bill Pipe has claimed that the criminal justice board, which he used to sit on, has disappeared – without councillors being asked about it.

“It was working very well, but now it’s doing nothing,” he said.

Said fellow police and crime board member Iain McVie: “We have legislation which says we must deal with crime and disorder. It seems that someone has forgotten that.”

Dorset Council say the board’s future will be discussed at the next round of meetings.

“This is all officer led. Officers are telling councillors what they want to do and it’s inherently wrong,” said police and crime commissioner Martyn Underhill.

“I’m very unhappy that the civil servants now seem to be dictating how we deal with our children in this county,” he said.

His comment refers to the setting up of a new children and families call centre for social services serving just the Dorset Council area – a decision which he says neither he, nor the chief constable, were consulted about.

The new centre has also been questioned by Dorchester councillor, Les Fry. He claims it could lead to confusion with the cross-county Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH), which serves both parts of the county as a one-stop centre for social services calls and is staffed by social workers, police and health professionals, operating throughout the year, 24-7.

The new unit, which deal with calls about children and families in rural Dorset only, has been in operation for a little over a month and, according to Dorset Council, has been functioning well.

Cllr Bill Pipe shared the concern about possible duplication saying he was a supporter of the one-stop Mash centre, based in Poole: “The Mash is very important for all the people of Dorset. I can’t help but think that this was an officer-led decision,” he said.

Mr UnderhilI said he would be disappointed if the decision had been made without a wide consultation with partners: “Both the Chief Constable and I would expect to see clear proposals for any suggested changes away from the current operating models beforehand,” he said.

“I have a growing sense that we are moving away from joint working, and becoming officer-led, not by councillors.

“I would be interested to see the business case for moving away from the current model.”

He is now to write to the chief executives of both unitary councils ask why the single county-wide system of having just one call centre for social services has changed.

“One of the areas of strength in our work in Dorset has been the ability to work together and evolve our public services to protect and safeguard children and young people.

“The Mash has been central to this success, providing an opportunity for staff from different agencies to co-locate and share both information and operational delivery in a structured way…crucially it ensures that police, health and social care safeguarding practitioners operate effectively and efficiently across unitary boundaries.”

Dorset Council say there were no formal consultations with the police about the new children’s advice and duty service.

It also says there was no need for the decision to come before councillors: “As the changes were made to improve the current service with no negative impact on residents, there was no requirement for formal approval from councillors. We did, however, talk to councillors and our partners about the changes through various channels, including the Strategic Alliance and Corporate Parenting Board,” said a statement.

The council say that despite fears expressed at the police and crime panel it can confirm that Dorset Council is still working with the Mash: “We continue to accept information from the police in the same way as before and work together in the MASH to ensure appropriate multi-agency information sharing and decision making for those children at greatest risk. We continue to have a manager and co-ordinator based in the MASH…

“There has been no significant change in the way we work together with our colleagues in the MASH. The changes are much more about how we have improved our work with other partner agencies like schools, health, mental health services and early years providers to provide a relationship-based service that focusses on ensuring children and families across Dorset receive the right help and support, from the right professionals at the right time, first time.

“We are continuing to speak with MASH partners about how we further develop the very positive and valuable work the MASH has been doing for the last three years, alongside the improved front door arrangements through the Children’s Advice and Duty Service. We are very pleased to have been receiving some very positive feedback from partner professionals – particularly our schools.”

The new centre has been operating since the beginning of October, with two separate telephone numbers – one for the public and one for professionals.

It is based on a model developed by Professor David Thorpe of Lancaster University who has been working with Dorset Council to re-shape the delivery of social services for children and families.

His ‘front door’ model does away with written referrals and is based on a questioning style looking at what children required and what service should be best to meet that need. It cuts down on paperwork and thresholds which, some argue, has prevented action being taken, until higher levels of need are reached. The model aims to reduce re-referral rates and ensure families are supported by people they know best.