An ‘inadequate’ children’s services will be taken over by a neighbouring authority after a government-appointed commissioner found “no realistic likelihood” that the council could keep running services.
The Department for Education issued a direction to Torbay council last week saying it needed to develop a contractual arrangement with Plymouth council to run services on its behalf. The direction followed the publication of a commissioner’s report into how services had improved since it was rated inadequate in 2016.
Commissioner John Coughlan said Plymouth council overseeing delivery of Torbay’s children’s services was the “best chance for sustainable success”.
The report, published last week, was written in April and both councils had agreed to the arrangement since.
Coughlan said the model was similar to that currently operated by Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, under which Hampshire took over the running of the island’s children’s services in 2013. Coughlan is the chief executive of Hampshire council.
He noted that practice in Torbay’s children’s services had improved at the “expected” pace, since Ofsted’s judgement.
He also said the frequency of child protection visits, manageable caseloads and consistent initial decision making were “developing strengths”.
“I am pleased to report that there continues to be good evidence of improvements in social work practice across the service, albeit that significant work remains to ensure that practice is consistent and of the required standard,” Coughlan said.
Despite improvements, he felt Torbay council was unable to continue running children’s services.
“The council is led by a directly elected mayor whose role has been rejected by referendum and whose working relationship with his own majority political group is at very best strained…
“The [local authority] is a very small “new unitary” which is typically struggling with common financial challenges. They are committed to some protection of children’s budgets but the general prospects of [the council] achieving autonomous stability in children’s services appear no closer now than a year ago,” Coughlan said.
“For those and related reasons I offered a clear conclusion in December 2016 that I saw no realistic likelihood of Torbay running its children’s services unilaterally in the foreseeable future. There has been no objection to that conclusion.”
He also discounted other options, such as incorporating the children’s services department within the integrated care organisation that runs adults’ services in Torbay, or a multi-authority trusts, as unachievable. Devon and Plymouth were both considered as options for running the service, with Plymouth selected as the best fit. Plymouth was rated as ‘requires improvement’ by Ofsted in its last inspection in October 2014.
A spokesperson for Torbay council said: “We have been working with our appointed Commissioner on improving our services since his commencement in May 2016. The partnership with Plymouth is the next stage in our ongoing improvement journey and we look forward to working with colleagues in Plymouth to deliver sustainable improved outcomes for our children and young people.”