Responsibility for managing children’s services in Stoke-on-Trent will remain with the city council while a further review is carried out, a report by the children’s commissioner has found.
Alongside the report, published today (Thursday), Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson has issued a statutory direction which gives Stoke-on-Trent City Council until 31 January 2020 to establish an agreed formal partnership arrangement with ‘a strong-performing’ local authority to provide support in delivering all of its children’s social care functions. The direction states that the partnership must be agreed by the Secretary of State and that if it cannot be brokered, alternative arrangements for delivering the services will need to be sought.
The announcements follow a four-month review of city council children’s services by commissioner Eleanor Brazil. The review was carried out after an Ofsted judgement published in March found children’s services to be ‘inadequate’. The review considered various options for the future delivery of services including the possibility of sharing a director for children’s services with another local authority and delivering the services through a trust.
As part of the direction, the Department for Education has also agreed that the city council will receive substantial help and expertise to drive through necessary improvements over an anticipated two-year period. An agreement has been reached for an intensive short-term package of support from Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council and Essex County Council who are both highly praised by Ofsted, and from a West Midlands-wide regional improvement alliance. The support will be funded by both the Department for Education and Stoke-on-Trent City Council.
Eleanor Brazil will continue in her role as children’s commissioner, and will work with the city council to:
- Steer the development of a formal partnership between Stoke-on-Trent and a strong-performing children’s services local authority by 31 January 2020
- Put in place an agreed package of intensive support, with robust governance and accountability
- Provide on-going oversight and challenge through the continued chairing of an improvement board
- Provide written updates on progress to the minister on a monthly basis and lead quarterly formal progress reviews.
The news follows a decision earlier this month by the city council to redirect £5.5m into children services through a mid-year budget review. It comes after unprecedented demand for children’s social care services in Stoke-on-Trent, with the number of children in care increasing to 890 at the same time as national funding has continued to fall and costs have continued to rise.
Cllr Abi Brown, leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council and cabinet member for corporate resources, strategy and partnerships, said: “We are fully committed to doing all that we can to improve the quality of our response to vulnerable children. Clearly as the review shows, there is considerable work still to be done to get services to where they need to rightfully be. We are also fully committed to working with the Department for Education and minister to identify the right partner authority that will allow us to make the progress we need to make for the benefit of all children in the city.
“The review by the children’s commissioner recognises that the size and scale of the challenge we are facing is one that needs additional expert leadership, support, capacity and time to meet. We welcome this help and most fundamentally we welcome that the minister and children’s commissioner have allowed us to retain responsibility for children’s services while we continue to work through this. We know the challenge we are facing is significant, but we are determined to provide the best possible support we can for the children of Stoke-on-Trent and will do all that is needed to make this happen.
“The commissioner has also highlighted that ‘it’s important that all 44 ward councillors recognise their responsibility and role in supporting actions to improve services.’ We hope colleagues will be supportive of these next steps and join with us in understanding how we can work together for the good of children in the city.”
Councillor Dave Evans, cabinet member for children and young people said: “The children’s commissioner recognised through the review that progress is beginning to be made on some issues but that the pace of change is too slow. It is going to take time and a lot of hard work and commitment, but with the additional expert advice and support that is being provided by government, we’re confident that improvements can be delivered across all aspects of children services.”
Alongside the ongoing work by the Department for Education to monitor progress in children services, Ofsted will make visits at least every three months to check work against required improvements. The first of these visits took place earlier this week.
For all media enquiries please contact the Communications Department at Stoke-on-Trent City Council on 01782 232671 (journalists only)