Councillor Jeremy Ambache speech to Wandsworth Council, January 27, 2016
An Ofsted report has found “weaknesses” in Wandsworth’s children’s services. At a special council meeting councillors were asked to approve £500,000 to re-shuffle top-tier managers in the department, without seeing the Ofsted report
My qualifications to talk on this subject are: I qualified as a child care social worker back in 1971; I spent over 30 years working with vulnerable children and adults up to the early 2000s in Social Work, Managerial and Director positions; I worked in eight different Local Authorities led by politicians of all the main political parties.
The responsibilities under the Children Act for vulnerable children are particularly onerous on staff and on the Local Authority. It takes great skill and effective management from all concerned to delivering the services to children looked after or in care, to ‘children in need’ and for child protection and safeguarding.
Good children’s services also need strong political leadership – and in the best authorities there is cross-party agreement and a lack of political ‘game playing’ over these issues. One prerequisite for this is absolute openness and transparency in which councillors are meticulously briefed on all the detail. I am really sorry that this appears not to have not happened in this case. There are many unanswered questions.
So what has happened?
Our problem tonight is that we don’t know much of the detail.
It appears that we have had a critical Ofsted (they finished the field work before Christmas) and we may be to be down-graded because of I quote ‘weakness identified in certain services’
From my experience of Inspections – Ofsted will have verbally briefed senior officers before Christmas – and they may even have by now shared a draft report in confidence.
It appears that the Council are being asked to take urgent political action regarding the senior management of Children Services and on Adult Care Services, before formally receiving the Ofsted report.
So why these urgent matters have should have been taken to the relevant Overview and Scrutiny committees (held in private if necessary)? They were not.
At the very least Members should have been briefed on what the ‘certain services’ were and what the ‘weaknesses’ are. But they were not.
The report on this was hidden away in a report titled ‘Shared Services with Richmond’ at the Finance and Corporate Resources Committee – and even the word Ofsted was not included in the committee paper!
Though the Chief Executive made clear at the committee meeting that the proposed action was in response to the Ofsted findings of weakness, there was no clarity of detail and transparency.
Now Council Member are asked to make a decision – without the available ‘facts’.
We have no clear idea what the problems are in children’s services that need to be addressed. So we have no idea if the solution proposed would appropriately address the identified weaknesses. This is not a responsible way to spend over £½ million pounds – This is not a responsible way to run vital services.
In short there are just too many unanswered questions:
- Why were the two Overview and Scrutiny Committee side-lined. They might have got answers to many of these unanswered questions.
- What are the weaknesses identified in which ‘certain services’?
- Why would the Council not be wise to wait a month before taking these decisions when the Ofsted report arrives?
- Why are the solutions proposed only to be agreed for 14 months? And is it wise to have such a short term proposal that may lead to ‘uncertainty’ and possible further senior management reorganisation?
- Why is an extra layer (Deputy Director) being inserted in the Management structure that we recently agreed?
I am left wondering whether these proposals may be the right ones to follow, or whether they may not? All Members should think very carefully before voting for major and costly changes without being able to assess the evidence and the full facts.