Government intervention in Nottingham’s children’s services ‘last thing we want’, says councillor

Cllr Cheryl Barnard (Lab), the Portfolio Holder for Children, Young People and Education
Cllr Cheryl Barnard (Lab), the Portfolio Holder for Children, Young People and Education
By Joe Locker, Local Democracy Reporter

The Nottingham councillor in charge of the council’s ‘inadequate’ children’s services says the Government appointing a trust to run them is “the last thing we want”.

Nottingham City Council is one of only 13 local authorities in the country currently delivering services to children which are rated as ‘inadequate’ by the watchdog Ofsted.

Inspectors gave the service the lowest possible rating in 2022, because it was so poor some children had been left at risk of harm.

An improvement board was put in place and regular Ofsted monitoring visits have been taking place to ensure critical changes are made.

In an update in January, His Majesty’s Inspector Margaret Burke said service staff “remained resolute in their improvement journey and have continued to make step changes and service modifications, which are improving the quality and impact of practice for vulnerable children and young people and their families.”

However she added: “Many of these additional resources are temporarily funded and, without the continuity of these resources, the current pace of change and service developments is unlikely to be sustained.”

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service Cllr Cheryl Barnard (Lab), the Portfolio Holder for Children, Young People and Education, said the council is around half way through its improvement journey.

It is expected Ofsted will conduct another full inspection in around September or October next year.

“In terms of our work we have got inspectors coming in next week and they will be looking at our children in care service,” she said.

“Our progress to date has been really good but I think this visit will be more challenging because we know we have not got the stability we want in children’s services in terms of our staffing.

“We have got a lot more agency staff, although quite a few of them have been with us for a long time.

“It is really important our children get stability, that they have the same social worker, they don’t have a lot of change in social workers, and that they are able to build up those relationships with social workers.”

Should the council fail to put in place improvements at the required pace, the Government’s Department for Education (DfE) could intervene further with the appointment of a Children’s Services Trust.

Independent trusts are set up to run the services for a council if deemed necessary.

Doncaster Children’s Services Trust was the first of its kind to be set up in the UK, after the Government ordered a takeover in 2013.

In Nottingham, commissioners have already been appointed in finance and transformation, headed by lead commissioner Tony McArdle, after the council declared effective bankruptcy in November amid serious financial problems.

One of the main reasons cited by the council for recent budgetary pressures was children’s services costs.

Asked if she was confident the council would avoid further intervention, Cllr Barnard added: “Last time [Ofsted] expressed slight concern because we managed to put some extra posts in and they were concerned about the sustainability about that given our financial constraints, but we have been able to write those posts into the budget for next year.

“I think we are clear of [a children’s trust]. What would happen if they weren’t satisfied we weren’t making steady progress, or if we did not improve by the next full inspection, they would probably look at putting a children’s trust in place.

“A children’s trust would be put in to run children’s services and we would have to fund whatever they asked for, so it is the last thing we want.”

Cllr Barnard explained she met with the Ofsted inspector ahead of the next monitoring visit to warn them of any issues they might find.

“They get worried if they find something you don’t know about,” she added.

During a Children and Young People Scrutiny Committee meeting on Thursday, March 28, councillors were informed nine new foster carer families have been recruited in this financial year, up from five last year.

The retention of carers has been “much-improved”.

A new head of service for children in care and care leavers has also been appointed, alongside a DfE funded improvement specialist.

However Catherine Underwood, the current director of people services, has announced she is leaving.

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