A council ordered by the government to go into partnership with a neighbour has been told it can now break the arrangement in light of improvements to its children’s services.
Isle of Wight council’s cabinet member for children’s services Paul Brading has told a scrutiny committee that the Department for Education (DfE) had informed him a statutory direction, compelling the authority to partner with Hampshire, had now been lifted.
The direction followed a 2012 Ofsted inspection on the Isle of Wight, which found services to be “inadequate across all domains” with “significant weaknesses and systemic failures in core child protection business”. The partnership came into being in mid-2013.
A number of other authorities have faced similar orders in the wake of unfavourable visits by the regulator. Last month the DfE ordered Croydon council to arrange two years’ assistance from Camden after inspectors found practice remained “highly variable” at the ‘inadequate’-rated London borough.
Brading told Community Care the lifting of the statutory direction came in the wake of favourable review visits by Ofsted.
“All feedback has been positive and encouraging, recognising improvements made to the service,” he said, adding that he anticipated the council would achieve a ‘good’ rating once a full inspection was carried out.
“Since the partnership was established originally, the training of our own internal staff under the leadership of Hampshire has been paramount, and successful,” Brading said. “Indeed, several of our staff now help out colleagues in Hampshire, so the partnership now has a two-way benefit.”
But while the Isle of Wight is now free to seek independence, in practice its arrangements – which were renewed in March – will continue largely unchanged for the next five years.
“If we wanted to break the contract, we could,” Brading told the scrutiny meeting. “But children and officers are benefiting from the partnership. It’s stronger than ever.”