Turning around the fortunes of Northamptonshire’s ‘inadequate’ children’s services is likely to take two to three years.
That’s the verdict of Sally Hodges, the county council’s head of children’s services tasked with keeping our children safe.
The blunt admission came on Wednesday (July 31) during a two-hour grilling from councillors following the release of a highly critical Ofsted report on Monday.
A newly formed children’s trust is likely to take on the mantle in 2021 when two new unitary councils replace the county council, but it appears that the trust is unlikely to inherit a healthy picture.
Speaking at the overview and scrutiny committee meeting at One Angel Square, Councillor Richard Auger asked Ms Hodges: “Can we have an honest assessment on whether we can turn this around in time for the children’s trust. If not, where do we go from here?”
Ms Hodges responded: “It would be wrong to say this will change in six months time. It takes two to three years to turn an inadequate authority around to something of an acceptable standard.
“In my professional opinion, moving to the trust is the right decision. The trust will maybe form in the next six to nine months. I think having a trust will allow some of the improvements to be taken forward more quickly than they would have been if we were working out how to split everything between two authorities.”
Although the Ofsted report did report that staff morale had improved, and that there had been some other improvements, it found that fundamentally children were still not being kept safe within the county.
The services had last been rated inadequate in 2013, before improving slightly to ‘requires improvement’ in 2016. But councillors vented their frustration that six years, progress had, at a minimum, halted, and if anything ‘gone backwards’.
Councillor Michael Clarke said: “This Ofsted report is 10 per cent positive and 90 per cent negative. This is like deja vu from six or seven years ago. We appear to have made zero progress. This is not a legacy we can be proud of. We are scratching our heads how this has come about again.
“We do wonder if there is a cultural problem in the directorate. Very highly paid people come and go yet we are faced with these same problems time and again.
“What confidence can we have that the promises you are making are any more valid than the promises that were made seven years ago?”
Sally Hodges responded: “I don’t agree with the 90/10 split. There are a substantial amount of comments about the services that are reasonable. We are not in a position that an authority this size wants to be. But we have accepted the Ofsted report’s findings.”