This post was first published by The Croydon Citizen on 05/10/2017.
The council must take responsibility for the children’s services debacle
There’s not been much good news for Croydon lately. The latest in a long list of bad news to be laid at our council’s door is the assessment by Ofsted inspectors that Croydon’s children’s services have failed on all counts.
From the failure to deal with flytipping through delays to the Fairfield Halls and Westfield (still awaiting planning permission), and this latest, the abject failure to run children’s social services, it is a litany of failure, made worse by Labour’s stock responses. The emergency council meeting on the Ofsted report was typical. Nothing is ever their responsibility, everything is someone else’s fault.
The Ofsted report says otherwise. It did not mince its words. The very first sentence of the first paragraph of the Executive Summary is: “There are widespread and serious failures in the services provided to children and their families in Croydon that leave some children at risk of significant harm”. So clearly this is not a small problem.
This is an independent inspector confirming that the services failed on Labour’s watch
The second paragraph begins “Since the local authority was inspected in 2012, there has been significant deterioration in the quality of service provision”. The system was working in 2012, it isn’t in 2017. I may be personally a Conservative, but this isn’t tribalism: this is an independent inspector confirming that the services failed on Labour’s watch.
Again from the report, problems were recognised in July 2016. Detailed external service reviews were commissioned when the breadth and depth of the decline became apparent. Yet action plans to address deficits were “focused on process or structure and there is insufficient consideration of improving outcomes for children. This has created delay in addressing and targeting the areas of greatest concern”. Even when they saw things were going wrong, they made wrong decisions that failed to address the problem.
Here is a fundamental difference between Labour’s approach and that of the Conservatives. Labour concentrate on inputs whereas what matters for Conservatives is whether the whole thing works efficiently to deliver better results. Labour’s knee-jerk response to problems is to spend more money. Money, usually your money (frequently disguised as ‘resources’), solves all problems in Labour’s world view.
There was a clear connection from elected members and senior managers to what happened on the ground
Money is indeed important, and sometimes more money is needed, but you can spend an awful lot of money chasing the wrong target or doing the wrong things and not solve the problem. Even more money spent still doing the wrong things doesn’t make that wrong decision right or have any better chance of fixing the problem.
The first place Conservatives look is whether the process is delivering for those it is intended to help, in this case Croydon’s most vulnerable children. Process is important, on that we can agree, it is what delivers results, but a process can be run well or badly.
The leadership and governance section of the Ofsted report points out that there is a dedicated children’s and young people’s scrutiny committee with regular meetings between officers and elected members, clear lines of accountability and governance arrangements between political, strategic and operational roles. In short, there was a clear connection from elected members and senior managers to what happened on the ground.
Leadership and governance are the critical areas where the calibre and competence of elected representatives is crucial
However, “a significant number of meetings and discussions take place informally and there is a lack of formal minutes to demonstrate and evidence accountability and agreed actions”. Essentially, there was a sound governance system in place but nobody made sure it was working. A good system poorly executed. It should have been clear that things were going wrong but because the system wasn’t managed properly, Labour’s councillors in charge had no clue whether the system was working and whether Croydon’s most vulnerable children were being well served.
As a consequence, “the serious and widespread issues across the service had not been fully understood by elected members or senior managers until this (the Ofsted) inspection and this corporate failure has led to a lack of prioritisation and timely action. This has resulted in too many children remaining at risk of escalating or actual harm characterised by drift and delay.” Drift and delay, the Croydon Labour way.
Leadership and governance is the critical area where the calibre and competence of elected representatives is crucial. It is their job to know what is going on and to have evidence to prove to themselves and others that the process is delivering for Croydon’s vulnerable children. If they don’t have that evidence, then it is their job to get it. “Nothing to do with me, guv” or “the officers didn’t tell me” is just not good enough. Otherwise, what is it that they are they paid for? If those responsible had any shame they would resign.