Tuesday 30 January 2018

Barnet Council - Officially Incapable of running its own childrens services

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Councillor Reuben Thompstone
A government inspector has published their report into the failure of Barnet Council to run its own childrens services department. As a result of this failure, Essex Council has had to be be brought in to sort the mess out. The full report is available to read here - https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/676435/Commisisoner_Report_into_Barnet_Children_s_Social_Care_Services.pdf

I have reproduced the key conclusions and recommendations in full, without comment. I have put key passages in Bold Italics. I simply note that the chair of the Childrens Education and Library Services committee, Councillor Reuben Thompstone, has neither resigned nor apologised for this complete failure.

I will be providing a full commentary on this when I have had the opportunity to fully analyse the report. The ruling Barnet Conservative group cannot possibly make any claims to being capable of running a competent administration. In May, the citizens of Barnet will have their opportunity to pass judgement on them at the ballot box.

Key extract from the report.
6. Conclusions and recommendations
6.1 The purpose of the review was to evaluate the corporate and governance capacity of the Council to make rapid and sustained improvements to their services for children in order to achieve the outcomes that children in Barnet deserve. That evaluation could then inform a recommendation to the Secretary of State as to whether there is sufficiently strong evidence to suggest that the long term sustainable improvement to children's social care can be achieved if operational service control stays with the London Borough of Barnet.
6.2 There is no doubt about the systemic failures that were found by Ofsted in Barnet. I have set out my view of the causes of the current failures and the action that I consider necessary to address those causes in order to secure sustained improvement for children, at pace.
6.3 Key to that improvement is strong leadership of the turn-around of services - leadership which can secure sustained improvement and focuses on:
6.3.1 developing and embedding a strongly child-focused culture, setting and securing consistent, high standards and expectations for practice across services;
6.3.2 prioritising actions which will make a real difference to children’s lives and outcomes, securing pace, momentum and clarity;
6.3.3 engaging and galvanising staff, corporate colleagues and partners;
6.3.4 developing strong, creative and cohesive teams, including at SMT level;
6.3.5 acting quickly and decisively to deal with any blockages to improvement for children.
6.4 The evidence I have set out in this report indicates that the Council has taken responsibility for its failures. They have accepted the findings of both Ofsted and my review and have demonstrated their commitment and determination to take the necessary action to bring about long-term improvement. They have made an encouraging start in many areas to address the issues, including through committing additional resource on a recurring basis. They have accepted my advice and recommendations throughout the review period, and those of the Director for Social Care and Education at Essex County, in his capacity as Chair of the Improvement Board. Critically, they have accepted their need for greater experience and expertise in the leadership of turning around failing services as described in paragraph 6.3. This has led to their agreement of the need for a strengthened arrangement between Barnet and Essex County Council to provide them with the capacity and capability they need for sustainable improvement of children’s services in Barnet, bringing extensive and consolidated experience of how to turn around failure and develop services rapidly.
6.5 In this Improvement Leadership Partner model, described earlier in the report, Barnet has agreed that the Executive Director, Social Care and Education in Essex, will report directly to Barnet’s Chief Executive on the pace of progress and on any additional requirements to secure the necessary sustainable improvement. He will  lead and direct the improvement programme in Barnet, working closely with the  29 children’s SMT and the Council overall to ensure that the improvement effort is
effective in securing impact for children; that it is resourced effectively; that the work of the Council overall is well focused; and that the capacity and capability of Barnet’s team is enhanced to enable them, in due course, to continue the programme to ensure long-term sustainable improvement, at pace.
6.6 This model has good potential to succeed in Barnet, not only because of the experience of the Essex team, but also because of the improved strength of the leadership and management within children services in the borough. Barnet has now secured a larger core of committed leaders and managers within children’s services who are child-focused and understand what high quality practice looks like.
While there is an urgent need to secure the stability of the senior management in the service, these colleagues are working more effectively with dedicated and hardworking social workers on the front line. The focus and direction envisaged in the new Improvement Leadership Partner model should provide the required ingredients for success for children and young people in the borough.
6.7 However, the model will only succeed if senior leaders and managers engage well with the direction and coaching from the Essex team. This will support the acceleration of their own learning and expertise in order that they can build rapidly on their collective strengths and develop further the skills necessary to provide the long-term surety of improvement that children in Barnet deserve and require.
Encouraging early signs show that this engagement is good, reflected in the outcome of Ofsted’s first monitoring visit to the borough. Inspectors found that, while practice remains inadequate, early signs of progress are clear.
6.8 Equally, the model will require good engagement with Essex from the Leader, members, partners, the new Chair of the BSCB, and colleagues from across the Council, including the Chief Executive and SCB. Again, there are clear signs of good engagement with the model across the piece, including from the refreshed and now robust Improvement Board.
6.9 While there can be confidence in the model described for Barnet, it is prudent to look at alternative approaches in line with the terms of reference for the review. I have therefore considered a range of alternative governance and delivery arrangements to ascertain whether they would be more likely to achieve rapid and
sustained improvement than leaving the services with the Council. There is no doubt that, in the right context, these models can provide a clear focus on children and young people where Councils cannot. I particularly considered the extent to which different models would:
• bring about improvement more quickly;
• secure more likelihood of sustained improvement;
• be more manageable to deliver within the Barnet context;
• build on, rather than disrupt, the very early signs of improvement in Barnet, including to provide confidence and stability for staff who have experienced a significantly long period of churn and instability; and,
• provide better value for money.
6.10 I considered whether a local authority delivery partnership with a successful local authority might be effective in relation to the criteria above. Such an authority could use its management team and key staff to run Barnet alongside or as part of its own services. However, given the appointment of a core of strong managers and the work already started with Essex, this model could duplicate or even undo much of what is already being achieved. The model agreed between Barnet and Essex achieves many of the strengths of this approach in any case, adding necessary expertise into the borough but with a focus on building Barnet’s own skills so that they can sustain improvement. As such, this local authority delivery partnership approach could reduce momentum and, critically, would be unlikely to work as quickly or as effectively than Barnet working with Essex to build the skills of its own permanent team.
6.11 In relation to other Trust or social enterprise company arrangements, the Council statutorily retains accountability for children’s services, even if they are not directly delivering those services. Given the work that the Council and partners are already doing with Essex, these models are likely to have a negative impact on the pace of improvement. In the time taken to get the Trust or company established, improvement should be well on track in Barnet. The establishment processes required are likely to take focus away from the improvement effort at a point where colleagues in Barnet are now working to deliver their Improvement Plan. These models would also be considerably more expensive to implement.
6.12 Members and senior officers in Barnet recognise the benefits that alternative delivery arrangements can bring, and Barnet has a history of introducing different approaches in a range of contexts. Their view, however, is that such arrangements are not appropriate or desirable for children’s service in their current context as they will prove a distraction and a detraction from the improvement work already in hand.
6.13 On balance, my view is that the evidence points to Barnet having made an encouraging start to making the improvements required to ensure children in the borough are safeguarded. While Barnet’s initial efforts did not have the desired impact, their work now, with the Essex team, is beginning to show the necessary signs of progress. On that basis, I have concluded that the best way forward for children in Barnet is for the Council to retain control of its services, operating with Essex as their Improvement Leadership Partner.
6.14 However, it is still early in the development and operation of this new model. It will be important for Essex and Barnet to keep progress under review to ensure their work together is having the intended impact. In his role as Chair of the Improvement Board, the Director for Social Care and Education at Essex County Council is well placed to report regularly to the DfE on progress and to raise an alert if he considers that pace of improvement is too slow or that engagement is not as required to ensure success. In addition, following full implementation of the model in six months, further external Commissioner advice should be sought on whether the model has been successfully implemented or if alternative arrangements have become necessary.
6.15 Currently, the model has been agreed between Barnet and Essex to run until September 2018, at which point Ofsted will have completed four monitoring visits.
They have agreed that the model should be reviewed before the end of the period with a view to extension if appropriate. This will be a key point to ensure that Barnet has the necessary capacity and capability to sustain any improvement and Commissioner advice may also be necessary at that point.
6.16 Any statutory direction to the Council should make clear the requirement on the London Borough of Barnet to engage fully with the Improvement Leadership Partner model and with the Chair of the Improvement Board in relation to his role in reporting progress to the DfE.
6.17 On the basis of the evidence set out in this report, I recommend that:
6.17.1 the London Borough of Barnet should retain its children's social care services on the basis that they:
• deliver on the intentions and actions set out in this report and in their Improvement Plan;
• work with Essex within the Improvement Leadership Partner model as set out in this report;
6.17.2 The Director for Social Care and Education at Essex County Council, in his capacity as the Chair of the London Borough of Barnet’s Improvement Board, should report progress on a regular basis to the DfE;6.17.3 Further external Commissioner advice should be sought on whether alternative arrangements are necessary after the model has been in operation for at least six months.

...... To be continued

Further reading -

Details of original Ofsted report in Ham & High

John Dix on the OFSTED failure and other Barnet Council failings

Six Blogs and a Damning Report - Why we need a change at Barnet Council

OFSTED Report into Barnet Council childrens services


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