Geoff Little, Chief Executive of Bury Council, provided an update on the progress of the Children’s Services Improvement Programme. Following the Ofsted’s judgement, the Council’s Children’s Services were said to be Inadequate and the Department for Education (DfE) published an improvement notice. This requires the Council to submit an improvement plan by 31 March 2022 and to establish an Improvement Board with an Independent Chair. The Council had already met that requirement following the earlier Local Government Peer Review and it will now meet monthly.
Also in accordance with the improvement notice, the DfE had now appointed a case officer and an independent advisor to support the Council and report to the Secretary of State on progress. Linda Clegg has been appointed to this role and as Independent Chair of the Improvement Board. She also led the Peer Challenge last year and so this appointment established consistency and continuity. It was noted that fortnightly meetings have been established between the DfE case officer and the Executive Director of Children’s Services to monitor progress and to agree and establish additional support to the department via sector-led improvement partners.
The Improvement Board first met on 25 January 2022 and approved its Terms of Reference and membership. It also received a report setting out the work progressing the improvement plan. This was organised around 3 key themes: leadership and management, quality and impact of practice on the outcomes for children, and workforce. It was noted that a workforce board has been established to provide input from staff to the Improvement Board.
Immediate actions have already commenced and progress was being tracked and would be reported to future meetings of the Improvement Board. That immediate action included: action to reset the Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub following Covid, a new approach to quality assurance enabling a more qualitative approach, and a new audit framework to provide more space and time for learning, and crucially a comprehensive review of staffing with the aim of one manager to six social workers and an average caseload of 15 cases per social worker. To that end, recruitment and retention procedures have been revised and additional staff have begun to be recruited.
The Children and Young People’s Scrutiny Committee on 20 January 2022 considered the Ofsted report and the report on the Council’s response and will meet again in March to discuss the draft improvement plan. This plan will be submitted to Ofsted by 31 March, and feedback then brought to the Improvement Board. The first monitoring visit from Ofsted is expected in the summer; this first report will not be published but all subsequent reports will be.
The Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Skills added that an ask would shortly go out to Opposition Members for a cross-party group to recruit an Assistant Director for Children Social Care. This post was important to improve capacity and to strengthen the leadership team.
It was noted that future updates will be provided to future meetings of Cabinet and the Chief Executive was thanked for his weekly briefings for Opposition Group Leaders.
Cabinet noted the update.
Reasons for the decision:
This update was provided in response to a resolution of Council at the meeting held on 19 January 2022.
Other options considered and rejected: