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‘We must find the real story in service failure’

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Most people don’t look beyond the headline if that headline is: ‘Ofsted report finds children’s services inadequate’.

But that’s not the real story. ‘Director resigns, new director appointed’ is also news – but again not the real story.

‘Ofsted follow up report notes significant improvement, goes down well with counsellors’ is also not the real story. And ‘director claims transformation is a result of listening to social workers’ isn’t either.

The story every other director in the land wants to hear is how this director got extra funding in a time of budget constraints. The director’s own explanation is that when you’re appointed, and the council has decided you are the right candidate, they need to trust you know what you’re talking about.

This director told members that other councils who had received a negative Ofsted inspection and were found to be ‘inadequate’ had needed to spend £15-£20m plus to dig themselves out of that hole – in which case a modest request for an initial £ 1m could not reasonably be refused.

In response to £6m overspending, the new director pointed to an Ofsted follow-up inspection report that noted improvements, and that prospects for further improvement was good. Apparently members acknowledged the progress and requested the director get to grips with the overspending as soon as possible.

Clearly the directors’ story isn’t the real story. Yes, members would want to back their new appointment and they would expect to be asked to fund some additional resources. But there is more to this story than a bad inspection report, the director sacked, the replacement appointed, additional funds and progress.

The real story is how budget cut decisions are made and how accountability and responsibility are determined.

How much notice is taken of a directors’ assessment of the impact of proposed cuts? What role do the leader and chief executive play in setting priorities between politically unacceptable and operationally unsafe? Which services are protected, or are all services expected to make the same savings?

Did the previous director fail to make explicit the risks involved in the budget cuts or did members think the risks were acceptable? Were members surprised by the findings of the Ofsted inspection? And whatever the answer to that – why?

The real story doesn’t finish with a new director and a positive Ofsted follow-up report. The additional funds for children’s services will have to be found from somewhere. Additional protection for children’s services over the next couple of years will be needed to maintain progress.

What impact will this have on the budget for other services? In the meantime, adult social services are next up for inspection.

Blair McPherson, former director of community services, Lancashire CC

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Lol - councillor in paragraph 2 - not counsellor!

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