‘Painful’ report into West Sussex children’s services finally released

County Hall in Chichester
County Hall in Chichester

A ‘painful’ report into failings at West Sussex County Council’s children’s services department has finally been released.

The authority received an ‘inadequate’ rating from Ofsted back in May and a commissioner was appointed by the Department for Education to oversee improvements.

However these have not happened quickly enough and the Secretary of State for Education has decided the best way to run children’s services is to take it out of the county council’s hands and form a children’s trust.

Commissioner John Coughlan, who is also chief executive at Hampshire County Council, will lead this process over the next 12 months.

Hampshire CC will be a partner to drive forward improvements to children’s services, while East Sussex County Council will act as a corporate improvement partner, with its chief executive Becky Shaw working across both organisations.

The full report, due to be discussed at a meeting in public by county councillors this morning, was only published by the DfE minutes before the meeting started.

It describes how the conditions required to support ‘essential sustainable improvement’ in West Sussex children’s services ‘regrettably do not currently exist within the county council’.

The report added: “Further, the extent of the current malaise in the organisation strongly indicates that those conditions will probably not reliably exist for some considerable time.”

Paul Marshall, leader of WSCC, said: “The DfE 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.

“As leader I am absolutely determined to continue to drive forward improvements for children and at the same time make sure we deliver good services - across the board.

“I am really encouraged the commissioner has recognised the immediate, positive changes we have already made; in particular in children’s services. We don’t in anyway underestimate the scale of the task that lies ahead and making significant improvements to our leadership, governance and culture is vital.”

Since the commissioner’s draft findings were leaked Louise Goldsmith resigned as leader while chief executive Nathan Elvery left the authority by ‘mutual consent’.

More to follow.