(Report 15/16-25) (Key decision)
The Deputy Leader of the Council (Policy) introduced the report and highlighted the following:
· The Council took no pleasure from the inadequate report and it was very important not to hide from the findings, to accept the judgement and remedy the situation with strong actions, as this was both a political and organisational priority.
· Immediate action was to be taken in number of areas, but others would take time. The Priority Action Plan (PAP) had been drafted. Secondly, all available resources would be utilised in delivering the PAP including the Local Government Association (LGA), Department for Education (DfE), other local authorities, and Ofsted itself. An improvement board would include representatives from the above listed organisations, alongside Lambeth officials, councillors, school staff, and other local institutions. The journey of improvement was one to be taken together.
· Frontline staff were noted for their dedication, with many working their entire professional lives on vital Council services, but there was a need for improved management in place to succeed. The Cabinet would have updates every three months, and during this process information would be released detailing tangible progress.
· Sue Foster, Strategic Director Delivery, commented that the PAP set out immediate actions to address recommendations, but it would go wider than those proposed by Ofsted with a set of corporate actions and would be scrutinised at next month’s Cabinet in detail.
· Andrew Tullis, Unison, gave a joint trade union response on behalf of GMB and Unison, raising concern at children’s services being rated as inadequate after having received an outstanding report previously and that this duty formed the most important responsibility of local government. He noted that there had been several cornerstones of policy missing, including: excellent management, support for staff, and permanent staff numbers (with a resulting over-reliance on agency staff). He suggested that the Council worked with the trade unions to bring back security and stability, to guarantee no compulsory redundancies, a halt to changing management structures (to stop distraction by experiments with new models of delivery), and an emphasis on in-house service provision. The change of the Council into clusters had disrupted dialogue with minimal benefit, and practical support was needed instead of grand plans.
The Leader of the Council welcomed the broad sentiments of response, remarking that it was a fundamental political priority, and agreed that the absence of regular permanent staff to implement rigorous systems had contributed to the inadequate appraisal.
Cabinet Members and officers made the following comments:
· The Deputy Leader (Finance and Investment) noted the engagement with unions and the new chair of Local Safeguarding Children’s Board (LSCB), but asked what interaction with DfE had taken place. The Cabinet Member for Housing acknowledged the three month reporting of the improvement plan, but enquired as to tangible milestones. The Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care said she had met a lot of staff over the years, noting their commitment, and said the whole organisation, not only this staff, were corporate parents.
In response to these representations:
· The Chief Executive, Sean Harriss, emphasised that it was a significant priority for the Council, with the Council viewing this as an organisation-wide challenge which would need an appropriate organisation-wide response, requiring all the council’s collective support to make improvements over and above the series of recommendations in the long-term. Putting these in place as quickly as possible for those that need quick action, with the timescales spelt out in the PAP. This was to be a mixture of short-term, intermediate and longer-term (18-24 months) actions to embed improvement for the future. He noted that there was ongoing constructive dialogue with DfE, along with other external organisations (Morning Lane given as an example) to provide support, to scope out the next stage of the process, with their feedback so far indicative that the Council was responding appropriately. He noted that initial constructive dialogue with trade unions over issues of concern was pleasing and that it was important to recognise the reciprocal wish to work in partnership, but it was not possible to provide blanket guarantees to the aforementioned requests. However, the council’s agenda was not around job losses, but supporting staff, maintaining and building upon in-house service provision, with a need to regularly discuss the PAP with partners.
· The Deputy Leader (Policy) welcomed the constructive approach by trade unions and noted that the new chair of the LSCB was Paul Curran. The response so far had ranged from outsourcing to Bernardo’s (along newly-mandated statutory lines) to the longer-term (where action now would have no impact for months). The Member reiterated a need to carefully take stock, ensure stability, with no knee jerk response, over a long-term process, with key performance indicators (KPIs) to monitor and evaluate progress.
The Leader of the Council ended the discussion by reiterating that this was in the interests of young people, and formed a key priority for the Council.
1. To endorse the council’s response and the setting up of the Children’s Services Improvement Board.
2. To consider and challenge the progress of the Children’s Improvement Board on a quarterly basis (as a minimum) for the coming 18 months.