Ofsted Chief references Northamptonshire's children's services in launch of annual report

Some social workers are based at One Angel Square, the county council's headquarters.
Some social workers are based at One Angel Square, the county council's headquarters.

The country’s chief inspector of schools has pointed to Northamptonshire as an example of where budget cuts have impacted on children’s services.

Amanda Spielman, who is in charge of Ofsted, the body which inspects schools and social services, referenced the county in a speech launching her second annual report yesterday.

She said financial pressures had led to senior officers having to focus on issues other than managing services.

She said: “In social care, we know that local authorities have faced some of the most significant budget reductions across the whole public sector. Most authorities have managed to make savings without compromising resources for statutory care services. That must be welcome.

“But our concern is that, where savings have been found – mostly in preventative and youth services – they are a false economy, as they only serve to push demand downstream. In the handful of authorities where financial pressure has taken a real toll – Northamptonshire being the most extreme example – we have seen the double impact of both financial crisis and the diversion of senior officers’ attention away from service management, with the result that social care services are suffering.”

Ms Spielman also referenced the ‘crucial ingredient’ of workforce stability in delivering successful care services.

Northamptonshire County Council has had a high churn of social workers over the past few years and has high levels of agency staff in its workforce.

Latest figures reported to the overview and scrutiny committee last week said that there are currently 143 social worker vacancies, of which 81 have been filled by agency staff. Agency staff make up a quarter of the workforce.

An Ofsted focused visit in October found that the department was in crisis with 267 children without an allocated social worker and said some social workers felt they were ‘drowning’ in caseloads.

Following the report and also after a request from Commissioner Tony McArdle, who is overseeing the failing county council, the Government has sent in children’s commissioner Malcolm Newsam to turn around the department.
He is yet to make a statement on what he has found during the past few weeks of examining the service and speaking to staff.