A North West local authority deemed ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted earlier this year has been ordered to work indefinitely with an improvement partner.
A statutory direction issued this week on behalf of the education secretary Damian Hinds appointed Helen Lincoln, director for children and families at Essex council, and her authority jointly as commissioners to oversee improvements to children’s services in Blackpool.
In January, inspectors branded Blackpool ‘inadequate’, citing a “decline in strategic leadership” that meant social work failings, particularly around neglect, had not been fully recognised.
Essex council has also been working in the capacity of improvement partner in other ‘inadequate’ local authority areas, notably Worcestershire, which has been ordered to set up an arms-length children’s services company, and Surrey.
Earlier this year Essex received an ‘outstanding’ rating from Ofsted, which praised Essex’s “inspirational” senior managers.
In Blackpool’s ‘inadequate’ judgment, inspectors found variable practice across various service areas, “many children’s needs not responded to in the right way or at the right time”.
Decisions were being taken without sufficient information, with risks not always well recognised and some cases being stepped down inappropriately.
Staff turnover was making the situation worse, inspectors found.
Members of Blackpool’s children’s scrutiny committee last month heard that a 12-week improvement plan was being finalised ahead of a children’s commissioner being appointed by the DfE.
A new quality assurance framework and training were also being developed at the council, its principal social worker, Kara Haskayne, told councillors.
‘Keen to share best practice’
Neil Jack, chief executive of Blackpool Council, said: “We look forward to working closely with Helen and her team to show the progress that we have already made since the Ofsted inspection, sharing with them the action plan submitted to Ofsted and demonstrating our capacity to improve.”
A spokesperson for Essex council said the authority was pleased to have been asked to work alongside Blackpool’s political and corporate leaders and staff.
“Essex’s children’s services have been recognised as ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted, and it is this track record of success and considerable experience that Helen Lincoln will bring to the council,” the spokesperson said.
“We are keen to share best practice with Blackpool and work to improve the lives of vulnerable children and families in the borough.”