Northamptonshire commissioner's damning verdict on children's services

Commissioner McArdle says staff have complained that decision making is opaque.
Commissioner McArdle says staff have complained that decision making is opaque.

The lead commissioner overseeing Northamptonshire County Council has given a damning verdict on the children’s services department and says he has witnessed a failure of leadership since his time in post.

In a letter sent at the start of this month (nov2) to both the secretary of state for local government James Brokenshire and the education secretary Damian Hinds Commissioner McArdle called for state intervention and said he had received ‘numerous instances of complaints from staff about decision making that is opaque and about inconsistency in the application of operational procedures.’

In response to his letter coupled with an equally damning Ofsted report, Mr Brokenshire said he is ‘minded’ to send in a children’s commissioner to oversee the department. Malcolm Newsam is expected to be announced in the coming days.

Mr Newsam, who was one of the team sent into Rotherham council after the child sex abuse scandal, visited Northamptonshire last week and met a number of people including chief executive Theresa Grant, leader Matt Golby and the new acting head of children’s services Sharon Muldoon.

Commissioner McArdle did not hold back in his assessment of what he has witnessed since being sent into the council in June.

He said: “Despite the production of action plans designed to tackle accepted shortcomings, we have witnessed the failure of the leadership within the service to address the fundamental problems facing it, including its operational stability; performance and finance.

“This leadership is now being replaced by the new chief executive, but this will take some time, and is a further, albeit necessary, disruption. I have met many hard-working, committed staff at Northamptonshire County Council, who continue to provide excellent public service despite these challenging circumstances.

“However, morale is evidently low, with numerous instances of complaints from staff about decision making that is opaque and about inconsistency in the application of operational procedures.

“We are aware of projected improvements that either fail to get off the ground, stall, or result in little or no change in outcomes. Most recently, the verbal feedback from Ofsted following a focused visit reinforced some of these concerns and uncovered others.

“We lack confidence in the service’s ability to give us the necessary assurance that it will either contribute to the council’s duty to secure best value or that it is capable of adequately delivering the services that the people of Northamptonshire have a right to expect and that many of Northamptonshire’s children’s services staff are working hard to deliver”.

The Ofsted letter revealed that 267 children are currently without an allocated social worker and that some staff felt that they were ‘drowning’ in caseloads.