Cumbria CC could become the latest local authority to lose control of its children’s services following a third consecutive ‘inadequate’ Ofsted rating.
Chief executive Diane Wood refused to rule out the possibility when asked if Department for Education intervention was likely to follow the critical report.
Ofsted found the authority to be inadequate in two out of five sub-areas of work it inspected, with the rest judged as ‘requiring improvement’.
The report criticised the council for having weak “management oversight over all areas of work”, said its strategic planning to respond to both child sexual exploitation and domestic abuse was underdeveloped, and described social work practice as “too variable”.
However, it also acknowledged that leaders and managers had made progress in improving safeguarding services since a previous inspection in 2013.
Following the report’s publication on 13 May, both Ms Wood and cabinet portfolio holder for children’s services Anne Burns (Lab) offered their resignations.
Both were declined by council leader Stewart Young (Lab). However, assistant director for children and families Lyn Burns has stood down.
Ms Wood, who was appointed in July 2013, said she made the offer because “it was only right that members could consider all options in deciding what would achieve the best improvements going forward, including replacing the chief executive”.
The council has subsequently assigned a new senior manager with a brief to improve the quality in services for looked after children, and plans to implement a staff restructure.
“The inspectors’ report notes that over recent months we have already been making progress in tackling the issues they identified, and that we are well placed to make the necessary improvements,” said Ms Wood.
“Over the coming months we will be implementing a staffing restructure which will significantly strengthen management capacity in the local areas. We will also be recruiting a new assistant director.
“We will continue to work closely with both Ofsted and the DfE on our improvement journey,” she added.
Impower executive director Amanda Kelly, whose consultancy has worked with struggling children’s services at Doncaster and Sandwell MBCs, drew parallels between Cumbria’s record and those of other local authorities where the government had implemented alternative service delivery models.
“Cumbria’s been on the naughty step three times – that was the same situation with Doncaster, Birmingham, Sandwell and other places where they’ve really struggled to break out of what we call a systemic lock,” she said.
“It takes a long time to really be able to unlock that and do something different that’s going to have a sustainable impact.”
Ms Kelly suggested the DfE’s decision would depend upon whether it felt Cumbria’s leadership was capable of delivering the changes recommended by Ofsted. She said this was the deciding factor for government intervention in Doncaster in 2013.
“What you had there was difficulties from a leadership level both politically and corporately as well as in the department,” said Ms Kelly. “In those situations it feels as if the organisation can’t get its act together.”
Ofsted’s Cumbria inspection report noted that Ms Wood and the council’s corporate director for children’s services “in a relatively short period of time, and from a low base, have improved safeguarding arrangements for the most vulnerable children in Cumbria”.
“The local authority is in a stronger place now to take forward improvements and build on the progress that has been made in the recent months to tackle the shortfalls identified in this inspection,” it added.
The report also included a simultaneous inspection result of Cumbria’s Local Safeguarding Children Board, which was judged to require improvement.