Slough Children’s Trust says it has made up the ground it lost in driving improvement caused by opposition from within the Slough MBC to establishing the new model.
Speaking to LGC on the day the trust was praised by Ofsted following a monitoring visit last month, trust directors and the council’s acting chief executive said progress had been made possible by building a completely new relationship following the suspension of chief executive Ruth Bagley and a change in political leadership.
In its letter, published on Friday, Ofsted said referral services and the response to child sexual exploitation had improved, while collaboration between the council and trust had “stepped up the pace” of raising standards in safeguarding vulnerable children.
But it added: “There remains much work to be done to ensure children are consistently helped and protected.”
Chair of Slough Children’s Trust board Elaine Simpson described the letter as the first good news for children’s services in Slough for “nine or ten years” and agreed that progress over the last six months had meant the trust had “made up ground” previously lost due to the difficulties faced when it was first established in October last year.
She added: “The way the council [initially] responded to the trust made it harder to build the relationships we wanted.
”There is still masses to do but we started from a very difficult place.”
Ms Simpson said the trust had first looked at establishing itself outside council offices to make it clear it was a distinct entity from the local authority.
But she said this proved difficult due to issues such as the need to share IT systems.
However, the lack of office space initially allocated by the council to the trust meant social workers were often left without desks, with some “waiting in court houses to be told to go somewhere”.
She added: “There needed to be a fresh approach and leadership and there were challenges around relationships.
“Now there is a sense that [the council] is letting us get on with it.”
Slough chief executive Ruth Bagley was placed on gardening leave in August and an investigation is ongoing.
She had previously opposed a direction from the Department for Education to move children’s services to an outside organisation following years of failure.
Former leader Rob Anderson (Lab) resigned in June during a meeting where councillors were due to vote on whether to remove him from office.
An agenda report for the meeting said Cllr Anderson had “not acknowledged his accountability for the sustained failure” of children’s services.
Cllr Sabia Hussain (Lab), deputy leader and commissioner for children’s services, said the cabinet had not been aware of the “blocks” being put in place by the council when the trust was being set up.
“All members are now aware of their responsibilities as corporate parents – knowing when there are mistakes you must call them out and take ownership and learn lessons of the past,” she added.
Acting chief executive Roger Parkin told LGC he had ensured better engagement and communication with the trust since taking on the role, meaning the council was now fully focused on “improving outcomes for our citizens”.
He added: “This is about outcomes for young people not about politics and personalities.”
Mr Parkin said the council had changed its commissioning strategy to support the trust, including introducing conditions in contracts which guarantee apprenticeships for care leavers.
Council leader Suhail Munawar (Lab) said councillors were now firmly behind the trust and confirmed the council was looking to “hold our position” on the children’s services budget and the amount allocated to the trust.
He did not rule out the council taking children’s services back in house in the future, but said establishing sustainable improvement was the priority.