Children’s services in West Sussex will be run by an independent trust after a Department for Education report found there had been ‘inadequate and ineffective leadership’ from the county council.
On the back of the report from commissioner John Coughlan, Becky Shaw, the chief executive officer at East Sussex will also take over the running of West Sussex.
In his report, Mr Coughlan said: “The conditions required to support the essential sustainable improvement in West Sussex children’s services, regrettably, do not currently exist within the county council.
“Further, the extent of the current malaise in the organisation strongly indicates that those conditions will probably not reliably exist for some considerable time.”
Mr Coughlan, who is also chief executive of Hampshire County Council, will lead the process for the next 12 months, with his council acting as an ‘improvement partner’ to drive forward the improvements needed.
The report was published by the Department for Education less than one hour before it was due to be discussed at County Hall today (Tuesday December 17).
Members spoke of their ‘shame’ at the contents, with leader Paul Marshall saying it was ‘not pleasant reading’.
The work of Mr Marshall, in his then role as cabinet member for children’s services, and John Readman, interim director of children’s services, was arguably the only highlight of the report.
The rest spoke of a local authority that had not only lost its way on this matter but was not interested in hearing that things had gone wrong.
Mr Coughlan’s report spoke of a ‘lack of organisational self-awareness’ and a ‘refusal to accept criticism or bad
news and then to address problems’.
He described ‘disturbingly low levels of awareness of what good social work practice looks like’, a perception among current and former staff of ‘a significant bullying problem’ and a ‘systemic and prolonged failure’ of children’s services in the county.
Some 150 detailed interviews with staff were carried out while the final report was being prepared.
When it came to former chief executive Nathan Elvery, Mr Coughlan’s report said the over-arching theme of his submission was ‘less an argument about some of the findings of this report and more a contention about where the cause or blame may lay for those findings’.
The lack of stability among senior management has long been cause for concern and was described as ‘alarming’ by Mr Coughlan.
In her submission to his report, former leader Louise Goldsmith implied that ‘blaming herself and other politicians for any recruitment and retention issues is unjust and solely intended to damage her character’.
A Freedom of Information request revealed that, as of October 15, eight positions within the children and families leadership team were only being filled on an interim basis – at a median rate of £800 a day.
Mr Readman himself will be leaving the council in January to take up a post at Cumbria County Council.
A spokesman said the search for a permanent replacement had already started.
Mr Marshall said: “The Department for Education report is painful to read and shows the scale of the problems we face. We acknowledge and fully accept the recommendations.
“I apologise to the children and families we support and council staff – right across the authority – for failing to create the environment where our children’s services can run well and effectively.
“I want to personally thank our staff – in particular our children’s services staff – for their professionalism and dedication to our residents during what has been an uncertain time.
“We accept and understand the secretary of state’s decision. I want what is best for the children we support in West Sussex.”