Children’s services commissioner set to be sent into Northants

14 Nov 18

An additional commissioner is likely to be sent into troubled Northamptonshire County Council after Ofsted found children’s services have “significantly declined”.

A written statement from communities secretary James Brokenshire said he and education secretary Damian Hinds had agreed to “act swiftly to strengthen the focus on children in the current intervention, by appointing a new commissioner,” after a damning Ofsted letter.

Hinds said he was “minded to appoint” a children’s services commissioner for the county using powers contained in the 1996 Education Act,

“Appointing a commissioner for Northamptonshire’s children’s services will help stabilise and improve the support for the children and families who need our protection,” he said.

A letter from Ofsted to the council chief executive Theresa Grant said children referred to social care services in Northamptonshire “are not consistently or effectively assessed, supported or protected”.

Ofsted’s inspection, which took place over two days in October, found that 267 children in the county remain without a social worker allocated to them – some of which have been waiting for up to four months.

The watchdog heard from social workers who said they were ‘overwhelmed’ by their caseloads, with some individuals responsible for between 30 and 50 children.

Ofsted’s letter, published on 13 November, said: “Senior leaders are aware of these serious weaknesses and have taken remedial action to respond. However, this has not been effective or with sufficient urgency or rigour”.

Malcolm Newsome, former executive commissioner for children’s services in Rotherham, was highlighted as a “strong candidate” to assume the role of commissioner in the county.

In September, Brokenshire announced he was removing Rotherham’s children’s services commissioners after three years.  

Victoria Perry, cabinet member for children, families and education at Northamptonshire, said: “We know that our children’s services are not working well and we will put this right. It is clear from the findings from Ofsted that these failures in the system have taken place over the last two years and we are now completely focused on recovering from these failures.”

Ofsted said the key areas for priority action were increasing workforce capacity and improving case allocation and progressions by ensuring that all referrals of children receive a timely evaluation.

Image credit: Hazel Nicholson, Flickr Images

Timeline

January 2018 – Then communities secretary Sajid Javid sends in the inspector Max Caller to investigate the council’s financial management

February 2018 – The council's 151 officer issues the first Section 114 notice in 20 years, banning all spending except on statutory services; the council plans to sell off their brand new headquarters to generate cash, auditors warn the council’s budget may not be lawful, the council passes a revised budget

March 2018 – Inspector Max Caller publishes report recommending the county is split into two unitariescouncil accepts the report’s findings; leader Heather Smith steps down, Javid announces that the council will continue to make majority of decisions despite government commissioners’ involvement

April 2018 – Matthew Golby appointed new council leader, leaseback agreement of headquarters is agreed

May 2018 – Council announces plans to set up improvement board, council balances its books with the use of reserves, commissioners are announced by new secretary of state James Brokenshire, auditor’s interim report reveals potential figure of PHE grant repayment

June 2018 – Final sum of misspent PHE grant is settled

July 2018 – CEO and CFO step down, new CEO appointedsecond Section 114 order is issued

August 2018 – Council produces spending ‘action plan’ in response to Section 114, 'core spending' plan approved by full council, council’s plan to close 21 libraries found to be unlawful and proposals for two unitaries are outlined.

August 2018 –  Councils approve plans to scrap two-tier structure.

October 2018 – New executive director of finance is appointed.

November 2018 - Government proposes sending in commissioner to take over children's services.

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