Cllr Dexter Smith is the Chairman of the Slough Conservative Association
Slough’s Labour Administration is in denial about the state of its “inadequate” Children’s Services and what measures are necessary to turn them around. But this is only part of a wider drift from reality as Council rhetoric tries to disguise how it is fighting a rear-guard action against Government policy and pursuing its own agenda, despite poor outcomes for children and families and a projected shortage of 8,000 school places.
Children’s Minister Edward Timpson announced on 15th July that the Government were stripping Slough – adjacent to Heathrow Airport with the highest birth rate in the country – of its responsibilities for children’s social care after the Council’s Children’s Services were found in February to be ”inadequate” again by Ofsted, who previously judged it “inadequate” in 2011.
The 2014 Ofsted inspection was deeper than the original, which concentrated on Safeguarding; it raised additional concerns about poor support for families with care planning, and Looked-After Children with their transition to adulthood.
Ofsted latterly found that “the strategic leadership of the Council has not been able to make the required changes to establish good quality services for children and families”. An independent review found the Council to be “reactive and focused on short term rather than sustainable solutions”.
Slough Borough Council disputed these findings in a letter to the Minister in June, but in announcing his decision, the Minister said of this letter, it
“underlines, I’m afraid, that the Council is unrealistic about the scale of the problem it faces… putting services beyond the Council control is the right course and wholly proportionate to the problems identified”.
The Government is now embarked on transferring Slough Children’s Services to a not-for-profit Children’s Trust; and it recently intervened to stop the Council from selling a former school site for housing (to help fund a stadium for the town’s cash-strapped football club), at a time when the Council was telling the DfE there were not sites available in Slough for new Free Schools that the Education Secretary had approved to meet growing need for places for Slough children both at primary and secondary level. This intervention comes not a moment too soon local Conservatives would say.
Slough’s Labour Council Leader, Cllr Rob Anderson, played fast and loose with reporting developments to councillors and the public from the start, in 2011; when Conservative councillors called for a review of case files for all children identified as vulnerable, including those Looked-After in Council care, he said the Children’s Minister was satisfied with a review of casework for under-5s, which was all that was done, when the Minister actually said that this was “a good start”.
The leadership refused the advice of Children’s Minister Tim Loughton, in 2011, to allow all-party engagement in the recovery process; the Council was told by Ofsted that its implementation of the agreed improvement plan was “inadequate” in 2012; the Safeguarding Board was neutered with the removal of its first “Independent Chair” by the Council within months – Ofsted two-years later judged Slough’s Independent Children’s Safeguarding Board to be “inadequate” earlier this year under a separate review.
Further evidence that the rot in Slough’s Children’s Services was spreading came in June when it was announced that Ofsted had judged as “inadequate” all 10 of Slough’s Children’s Centres, in all three categories reviewed – governance, monitoring and service delivery. This service was contracted out by Slough Council last September to a private contractor Cambridge Education; under the Minister’s Children’s Trust for Slough it is likely this contractual relationship will remain.
At no point has anyone in Slough’s Labour Administration taken any responsibility for these failings. In-between the second “inadequate” for Slough’s Children’s Services and the “inadequate” scored by its Children’s Centres there was an all-out Council election in May.
Labour was returned with a reduced but still sizable majority; its Leader – the Leader of Council – is the same, and he re-appointed the same Commissioner (Lead Member) for Education and Children, Cllr Pavitar Mann, who was not only absent for
a Conservative motion of no confidence in her; she chose not to make any statement about these developments either for that debate or at the scrutiny panel where Cambridge Education responded to questions about the future of Slough Children’s Centres.
As an Opposition Group kept in the dark, we really didn’t expect much more than an inadequate response from Slough’s inadequate Administration. But, the Council’s Officers too have escaped lightly – one Assistant Director for Children’s Social Care was removed from post in 2011 having only been in the job for about six months; the Strategic Director for Education and Children’s Services was paid £239,000 to go in 2012 subject to a compromise agreement/gagging order, and now has a similar job with another local authority.
This is the real “democratic deficit”; not the Government taking over Slough’s failing Children’s Services….and nobody ever apologises.