Council still at risk of losing children’s services despite signs of improvement

DfE appoints second commissioner for Sefton after first concluded that removing services would be distraction but that significant practice and leadership problems remained

Bootle Town Hall
Bootle Town Hall, Sefton (photo: Phil Nash from Wikimedia Commons)

An ‘inadequate’ council is still at risk of losing control of its children’s services despite a government adviser finding signs of improvement.

The Department for Education (DfE) has appointed a second commissioner to direct children’s services improvements at Sefton council after the first, Paul Moffat, found it had “made a good start to its improvement work” under a new leadership team.

In a report completed in September but published this month, Moffat said that transferring control of Sefton’s children’s services to an independent body or another council would “distract from its improvement” and it should be given the chance to make improvements under its own steam.

However, Moffat, who was sent in by the DfE in June to identify whether Sefton should retain control of its services following its ‘inadequate’ Ofsted verdict, said the option of removal should not be ruled out and warned Sefton would need ongoing government oversight for the “foreseeable future” to tackle significant management and practice problems.

This was reflected in a revised statutory direction for the authority published by the DfE today, in which it appointed Paul Boyce – like Moffat, a former director of children’s services – as its new commissioner, to direct improvements at, and provide guidance to, the North West council.

While acknowledging the improvements identified by Moffat, the DfE said Sefton was still failing to perform its children’s social care services to an adequate standard.

Services still at risk of removal

It said Boyce should oversee progress against Moffat’s recommendations and those set out in Ofsted’s inspection report, published in May, adding: “If progress is insufficient, [Moffat should] bring
together evidence to assess the council’s capacity and capability to improve itself, and recommend whether this evidence is sufficiently strong to suggest that long-term sustainable improvement to children’s social care can be achieved should operational service control continue to remain with the council.”

Among the priorities for progress identified by Moffat were:

  • Reviewing its pay and benefits to make sure it had a competitive recruitment offer for social workers compared with other employers in the region.
  • Improving the quality of assessments, which he found were still – as identified by Ofsted – descriptive and lacking in analysis.
  • Addressing a significant lack of capacity in its oversight of social work practice.

He also said Sefton needed to find a suitably qualified partner authority to help it make progress.

Boyce is well known to Sefton having served as chair of its improvement board, and has long worked in the wider region, having been DCS at both Wirral and Knowsley councils.

A Sefton council spokesperson said: “We welcome the appointment of a new commissioner, Paul Boyce, who will work with us to provide support, guidance and challenge as we continue on our improvement journey

“We have already established a robust and positive working relationship with Paul as he is currently the independent chair of the Children’s Improvement Board here in Sefton.

“He will continue as chair alongside this new position and we look forward to working with him to give Sefton children and young people the services they deserve.”

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