Auditors state Wirral Council doesn’t provide value for money for 2nd year in a row!

Auditors state Wirral Council doesn’t provide value for money for 2nd year in a row!

Auditors state Wirral Council doesn’t provide value for money for 2nd year in a row!

                                                      

Cabinet 17th December 2014 voting to close Lyndale School L to R Cllr Tony Smith (Cabinet Member for Education), Cllr George Davies, Cllr Ann McLachlan
Cabinet 17th December 2014 voting to close Lyndale School L to R Cllr Tony Smith (Cabinet Member for Education), Cllr George Davies, Cllr Ann McLachlan

Wirral Council’s auditors Grant Thornton will be telling councilors on Wirral Council’s Audit and Risk Management Committee next Monday evening (25th September 2017) that Wirral Council doesn’t provide value for money.

The auditor’s concerns are to do with the lack of improvement following the OFSTED report last year that rated Wirral Council as inadequate. In a report to be discussed by councillors next week the auditors state:

“In September 2016, Ofsted issued its report on the inspection of the Authority’s services for children in need of help and protection, children looked after and care leavers. The overall judgement was that children’s services were rated as inadequate. The inspection found widespread and serious failures in the services provided to children who need help and protection.

The Council has established an Improvement Board and developed an Improvement Plan to address the Ofsted recommendations, and provided an update on progress in its Annual Governance Statement. However, a subsequent Ofsted monitoring visit in April 2017 reported that while inspectors identified areas of strength and improvement, there are still some areas where inspectors considered that progress has not yet met expectations.

This matter is evidence of weaknesses in proper arrangements for understanding and using appropriate and reliable financial and performance information to support informed decision making and performance management, and for planning, organising and developing the workforce effectively to deliver strategic priorities.”

Since the publication of the OFSTED report, the Cabinet Member for Children and Family Services Cllr Tony Smith, the Director for Children’s Services Julia Hassall and the Chair of the Improvement Board Eleanor Brazil have all resigned (for clarity Cllr Tony Smith resigned from his Cabinet position not as a councillor).

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Are Wirral councillors about to make another Town Hall bungle on education?

Are Wirral councillors about to make another Town Hall bungle on education?

Are Wirral councillors about to make another Town Hall bungle on education?

                                

Cabinet 17th December 2014 vote on Lyndale School closure L to R Cllr Tony Smith (Cabinet Member for Education), Cllr George Davies, Cllr Ann McLachlan
Cabinet 17th December 2014 vote on Lyndale School closure L to R Cllr Tony Smith (Cabinet Member for Education), Cllr George Davies, Cllr Ann McLachlan

Pictured above is Cllr Tony Smith (Cabinet Member for Children and Family Services) who has political accountability to the public for education at Wirral Council.

For those with long memories, who read my article The reasons why Wirral Council’s Lyndale School call in is being delayed or the Wirral Globe article headlined Town Hall bungle means Lyndale meeting called off you will recall when I pointed out to a certain Monitoring Officer called Surjit Tour who works for Wirral Council that the call in over the Lyndale School closure wasn’t lawful. He agreed with me and the public meeting had to be postponed.

Regulations that the last Labour government brought in The Education (Parent Governor Representatives) Regulations 1999 require the education committee of a local council, to have a minimum of two and a maximum of five parent governor representatives with voting rights.

Many councils appoint three, so that if one should cease to be a parent governor at that school, die, or indeed not turn up to meetings for six months without sending apologies and therefore be removed it doesn’t drop below two.

Wirral Council next week meets at Wallasey Town Hall on Tuesday 16th May 2017, see here to appoint its committees for the 2017-18 municipal year, although the agenda and reports are here.

As previously stated on this blog, the People Overview and Scrutiny Committee (which covers education) is proposed to be split into two new committees, the Adult Care and Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee and the Children and Families Overview & Scrutiny Committee.

The People Overview and Scrutiny Committee, currently has only has one parent governor representative on it.

Below is video of Cllr Steve Foulkes explaining why Wirral Council can’t carry on with only one parent governor representative (although at the time the Committee he was referring to had none).

So why are Wirral Council seemingly ignoring this legal requirement in 2017?

Will Councillor Steve Foulkes remember next week what he stated in 2014? Or do the Wirral public just have more political fudge to look forward to next week from a council whose leadership, management and governance of education was rated inadequate by OFSTED last year?

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Coordinating Committee (Wirral Council) 5th February 2014 Part 1 of 2

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Coordinating Committee (Wirral Council) 5th February 2014 Part 2 of 2

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3 meetings of Wirral Council tonight, but what are they about?

3 meetings of Wirral Council tonight, but what are they about?

3 meetings of Wirral Council tonight, but what are they about?

                                              

Cllr Tony Smith (Cabinet Member for Education) voting to close a school rated Outstanding by OFSTED at a time when Wirral Council was rated as inadequate
Cllr Tony Smith (Cabinet Member for Education) voting to close a school rated outstanding by OFSTED at a time when Wirral Council was rated as inadequate

Below is a brief update that should cover what’s happening at the three meetings of Wirral Council tonight.

The first is about the recent OFSTED report (which has previously been covered by this blog).

Each political party’s response (you can read the motions for yourself) is summed up below.

Labour – Things can only get better (but the government doesn’t give us enough money)
Conservative – Things were better when the Conservatives and Lib Dems were in charge of Wirral Council and why don’t the Labour councillors in charge of these areas resign?
Liberal Democrat – Things were better when the Lib Dems were in charge, but there should be regular progress reports on what’s happening, statements by the Cabinet Member and an opportunity to question him


The second Council meeting is about the proposed newspaper idea.

Again, there’s a split by political party on that proposal too.

Labour – We want to publish a new monthly newspaper delivered to every home and business on the Borough
Conservative – Refers to Labour’s plan as an “expensive exercise in spin and control” and a “vanity project” that’s likely to lead to government intervention
Liberal Democrat – The legal advice received and correspondence with DCLG should be shared with all councillors (who shouldn’t have to make Freedom of Information requests for it)


Then there’s finally the regular Council meeting. The only Notice of Motion likely to debated at that meeting (proposed by the Labour Group) is one asking retailers and vendors to stop selling the Sun newspaper.

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Councillors on Wirral Council’s Audit Committee approve changes to Annual Governance Statement after critical OFSTED report

Councillors on Wirral Council’s Audit Committee approve changes to Annual Governance Statement after critical OFSTED report

Councillors on Wirral Council’s Audit Committee approve changes to Annual Governance Statement after critical OFSTED report

                                         

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Wirral Council’s Audit and Risk Management Committee meeting held on the 26th September 2016 | The item on the Annual Governance Statement starts at 41m:22

Wirral Council's Audit and Risk Management Committee (26th September 2016) voting on an amended Annual Governance Statement L to R Cllr Phil Gilchrist, Cllr Kathy Hodson, Cllr Les Rowlands and Cllr David Elderton
Wirral Council’s Audit and Risk Management Committee (26th September 2016) voting on an amended Annual Governance Statement L to R Cllr Phil Gilchrist, Cllr Kathy Hodson, Cllr Les Rowlands and Cllr David Elderton

Councillors at a meeting of Wirral Council’s Audit and Risk Management Committee on Monday finally voted to approve an amendment to the Annual Governance Statement for 2015-16 relating to the recent OFSTED report.

Councillors talked about the Annual Governance Statement and amendment to it for fifty-six minutes, followed by an adjournment for twenty-one minutes (so the spokespersons and Vice-Chair could reach agreement on it in the Library), followed by a further eight minutes before it was finally voted on.

This is what was in the amendment:

“ As Members will be aware the Council received a report from Ofsted on 20 September 2016 which rated Children’s Services in Wirral as inadequate.

Given the significance of the issues highlighted the following amendment are [sic] to be made to the Annual Governance Statement:-

Section 6 : Significant Governance Issues

The Council received a report from Ofsted on 20 September 2016 which rated Children’s Services in Wirral as inadequate. The report highlighted ‘serious and widespread failures’ in the delivery of services to children who need help and protection in Wirral; focusing on frequent changes in social workers, issues in how partners work together, and evidence of poor records management across a range of areas.

The Ofsted findings have been accepted and the response will deliver major and sustained improvements which are carefully planned and considered.

An Improvement Board has been established and will initially be led by the Chief Executive until the appointment of an Independent Chair. The Improvement Plan has to be agreed with the Department for Education before 30 December 2016. A Department for Education adviser will assist the Council and Ofsted will return quarterly to review progress.

Description of Governance Issue Responsibility / Lead Officer Expected Delivery
Ofsted highlighted serious and widespread failures in the delivery of services to children who need help and protection in Wirral; focusing on frequent changes in social workers, issues in how partners work together, and evidence of poor records management across a range of areas.

Improvement Board established to lead the process including identification and delivery of an Improvement Plan.

Improvement Board / Julia Hassall (Director of Children’s Services) Improvement plan before 30 December 2016

Later in the same meeting councillors heard from Wirral Council’s external auditor Grant Thornton that because of the OFSTED report, their value for money opinion for 2015/16 would be qualified.

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Wirral Council’s Children’s Services branded “inadequate” by OFSTED

Wirral Council’s Children’s Services branded “inadequate” by OFSTED

Wirral Council’s Children’s Services branded “inadequate” by OFSTED

                              

Cabinet 17th December 2014 voting to close Lyndale School L to R Cllr Tony Smith (Cabinet Member for Education), Cllr George Davies, Cllr Ann McLachlan
Cabinet 17th December 2014 vote on Lyndale School closure L to R Cllr Tony Smith (Cabinet Member for Children and Family Services), Cllr George Davies, Cllr Ann McLachlan

I’ll declare at the outset that I was the Appellant in the First-Tier Tribunal case referred to later.

I’ve just read the 44 page inspection report by OFSTED into services for children in need of help and protection, children looked after and care leavers which you can read on OFSTED’s website.

The inspection was carried out in July 2016 and the headlines (these are quoted from the report) are:

“1. Children who need help and protection
Inadequate

2. Children looked after and achieving permanence
Requires improvement

2.1 Adoption Performance
Requires improvement

2.2 Experiences and progress of care leavers
Inadequate

1. Leadership, management and governance
Inadequate

The report then goes on to explain the many reasons why and starts with the sentence, “There are widespread and serious failures in the services provided to children who need help and protection in Wirral.” and perhaps even more telling makes this point about senior management and councillors, “Almost all of the deficits identified in this inspection were known by senior leaders.

And in response to a certain senior manager at Wirral Council who repeatedly states the Council acts in the best interests of children, “Plans to restructure services to respond better to children’s needs were delayed for a year due to competing council priorities.

However I don’t want you to think I’m cherry-picking negative criticism from the report. If you read the report you’ll find it has very little to state that is positive.

After all this sentence, “Performance management data is widely scrutinised by managers and elected members, but is not yet leading to improvement and is not always focused on the right things.” sums it up. People (whether that be councillors or managers) know about the problems, but seemingly don’t know (or if I’m being more charitable are thwarted from) fixing them.

The infamous report into Wirral Council by Anna Klonowski Associates explained how in years gone by Wirral Council received independent reports similar to these but just carried on (whereas in other councils it would’ve raised red flags and led to major alarm bells ringing).

Of course it remains to be seen what Wirral Council’s response to this is. An Improvement Board has been mentioned (but if it meets in private as the one before did) the public won’t know about the changes Wirral Council is making in response and to be able to hold their political leaders to account.

And let’s face it, a Council that is prepared to go to a Tribunal to make sure some of the views of senior councillors, union representatives and senior managers at a meeting held in secret about education are kept out of the public domain in response to a FOI request, is that a Council acting in an “open and transparent” way or one that knows about its problems but wants to keep them out of the public domain?

The OFSTED inspection report is due to be discussed by councillors on Wirral Council’s Children Sub-Committee at a public meeting this Thursday evening (22nd September 2016) in Committee Room 2 in Wallasey Town Hall starting at 6.00pm.

Oh and just to quell any rumours, no I don’t have any children but Wirral Council’s external auditor Grant Thornton are reviewing the impact of the OFSTED report on their Value for Money conclusion which goes to be considered at a public meeting of Wirral Council’s Audit and Risk Management Committee on Monday 26th September starting at 6.00pm in Committee Room 1 at Wallasey Town Hall.

As I wish to end on a positive note Committee Rooms 1, 2 (and I’m told also Committee Room 3) on the ground floor at Wallasey Town Hall are now able to be better accessed by those in wheelchairs or those with reduced mobility due to changes recently made to the doors to these rooms at this listed building.

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