Plan to remove children’s services from West Sussex County Council ‘paused’ after major progress

Children’s Services in West Sussex will remain under the control of the county council for at least another year in light of the significant progress that has been made to improve them, it was revealed today (Thursday December 10)
County Hall ChichesterCounty Hall Chichester
County Hall Chichester

West Sussex County Council today welcomed the news that the Department for Education has issued a new statutory direction stating Children’s Services should remain with the authority for at least a year with the move to a Children’s Trust ‘paused’.

The council was ordered to place its services for Children and Families into a separate Children’s Trust following an inadequate Ofsted report in 2019 and a subsequent damning report by a children’s commissioner appointed by the DfE to look at the council’s work.

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The new statutory direction was published alongside a report by the Children’s Commissioner, and Chief Executive of Hampshire County Council, John Coughlan who was appointed to track progress by the council, which said there were ‘compelling reasons why a company to deliver children’s services functions on behalf of the council is no longer required’ and instead the council should retain control of its children’s services for a period of 12 months pending a review of improvement progress.

In a letter from Children’s Minister Vicky Ford to the Leader of West Sussex County Council outlining details of the decision, the Minister said: “I am encouraged that there is now a new political leadership in respect of children’s services, supported by strong senior executive appointments, including a new director of children’s services.

“This has undoubtedly been strengthened by the wider work the council is undertaking to reform the corporate council, with the support of its corporate improvement partner, East Sussex County Council. The strength of this partnership will evidently be important in creating the conditions in which children’s services can continue to improve.”

The Minister said that while she was confident ‘the building blocks were in place for improvements’ there was still much more to do adding: “It is clear that there is still much work to do to address the weaknesses identified in 2019, and bring the standard of service up to the quality that children and families in West Sussex deserve.”

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Paul Marshall, Leader of the Council, said: “This is a significant step for the council and demonstrates a huge amount of hard work by a great number of people but, more importantly, it is crucial for children and families living in our county.

“Whilst it was focused on Children’s Services, the original report made it clear that it was our corporate conditions that were not allowing Children’s Services to succeed. This news today, therefore, shows just how much progress has been made across the organisation

“To have both Hampshire County Council as our Partner in Practice and East Sussex County Council as our Corporate Improvement Partner has made a huge difference to us and I want to thank them for their support and their expertise.

“But, as the Minister has made clear, we still have a long way to go, and a huge amount of work to do. We are not complacent and improving the services that our children rely on remains my absolute priority. Our Children’s Services support some of the most vulnerable people in our community and they should be, and are, front and centre of all that we do.”

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The news comes shortly after West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service was told that an independent advisory panel set up to support improvement within the service is no longer needed.

The chair of the Independent Advisory Panel (IAP) for West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service said the service has taken ‘significant’ steps to improve.

Ann Millington wrote to Mr Marshall and Cabinet Member for the Fire and Rescue and Communities with her decision.

The letter states the service ‘is moving in the right direction in capable hands.’

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Mr Marshall added: “This council has not been without its issues and to have such compelling evidence that we are driving forward improvements and making real change is incredibly heartening. Both the Fire and Rescue Service and our Children’s Services support us when we are at our most vulnerable and it is vital for our residents that we get those services right.

“I want to take this opportunity to pay thanks to all our dedicated staff who work tirelessly to support residents and these achievements are testament to their hard work. We will continue to strive for improvements and make the services we provide to the residents we serve the best they can be.”