England’s largest local authority has admitted that its children’s services are “unsafe”, LGC has learned.
Peter Hay, the new director of children’s services at Birmingham City Council, made the admission in a presentation to councillors late last month.
“The immediate position is unsafe for children and needs immediate action,” the presentation said.
“There needs to be greater confidence that concerns are heard and responded to – from staff and about children.”
Mr Hay’s bleak assessment of the council’s services comes as the Department for Education steps up its scrutiny of the council.
The authority has a history of child protection problems dating back to 2008, when a serious case review found the death of seven-year-old Khyra Ishaq could have been prevented.
LGC reported last month that officials from the department had visited Birmingham and were said to be considering whether a radical form of intervention, such as the trust model imposed on Doncaster MBC in July, could help to improve the services.
Mr Hay told LGC he believed the council was “standing near the exit of the last chance saloon” when it came to improving the services.
“We’d had previous notices to improve, and clearly hadn’t improved by the last inspection [in October 2012],” he said.
He said he had given the stark warning because it was crucial in child protection services to have an “honest culture”.
“We’re clear with the Department for Education that the situation remains precarious and we are in a very difficult financial climate,” he said.
It has also emerged that the council is one of two local authorities this year to have been issued by the Department for Education with a statutory direction.
This is a higher level of intervention than an ‘improvement notice’ which is usually issued to councils rated ‘inadequate’ by the watchdog. The other is the Isle of Wight, which was ordered to let Hampshire CC take over the running of its services. Sandwell MBC and Doncaster MBC are also in line to receive statutory directions.
The Birmingham direction, issued in March, compels the authority to submit “action plans” for improving children’s services to the department.
Asked about the direction, Mr Hay said it also compelled the chair of Birmingham’s safeguarding children’s board to report directly to DfE ministers on a quarterly basis, adding that it was the only arrangement of its kind in the country.
“It is a ratcheting-up of the existing notices to improve,” he said.
However, Mr Hay said the council had taken steps to make improvements, including bringing in the consultancy firm Impower which is also working with Sandwell MBC and Doncaster MBC to improve their children’s services.
“We’ve also done a one-month plan on immediate recovery and a three-month plan on workforce and workload,” he said, adding that he had suggested meeting DfE officials in three months’ time to discuss the council’s progress.