Opinion: Every child matters and the improvement journey

When the Conservative Group enters full council on December 6, we will have new seating arrangements on the opposite side of the chamber and for the first time in some years, be the effective voice of opposition and we will ask the most challenging and pertinent questions regarding Children’s Services, writes ​Cllr Jackie Allen – Shadow Cabinet Member for Children’s Services.
​Cllr Jackie Allen – Shadow Cabinet Member for Children’s Services.​Cllr Jackie Allen – Shadow Cabinet Member for Children’s Services.
​Cllr Jackie Allen – Shadow Cabinet Member for Children’s Services.

In March 2023, Ofsted made a focussed visit to the Shared Partnership Service – which includes Social Workers and Staff from Peterborough and Cambridge, Police and Health, otherwise known as the Front Door. This is the first step to refer any child at risk of harm including Child Sexual Exploitation. Children’s Services received the findings of the Ofsted inspection in May 2023 and two priority actions were identified. The published Ofsted report was an agenda item in the Children’s & Education Scrutiny Committee in July this year.

So it is surprising that no questions were asked of me or our leader either in scrutiny or at full council and in an appropriate timeframe to assess what this might mean going forward for Children’s Services. Instead, a letter signed by opposition Group Leaders was emailed in September to Wayne Fitzgerald - Council Leader at the time, citing their concerns for our most vulnerable children. It was clear from the content of the letter they had not read published papers from months earlier detailing how Ofsted came to make their initial focussed inspection but were clearly on their journey towards a contrived vote of no confidence in our Leader and the Cabinet.

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To set the record straight and in support of the Corporate Leadership Team and the Conservative Administration, swift action was implemented way back in October 2022 when Elaine Redding was recruited as an Interim Director for Children’s Services shared with Cambridgeshire County Council.

Interviews swiftly followed to appoint the permanent Director of Children’s Services, who I am pleased to report joined the council in July and is now conducting a rigorous self-assessment of the organisation’s strengths and weaknesses. After the Cabinet agreed to support a strategic decision to uncouple the shared Children’s Service and Education with Cambridgeshire County Council, it was to be expected there would be some skills gaps and budget challenges ongoing. Currently there is a budget pressure of £6.1 million with £4.2 million of this pressure in the service delivery cost for Children’s Services. In reviewing this data, under the Conservative Administration, these figures show Peterborough is performing significantly better than other local authorities in our region and not at all badly as others try to make out.

The budget pressure in Children’s Services is mainly due to the high-cost placements with two children that have complex needs. The latest figures for children in care show 27% are in Residential Care and the Conservative Group have long championed investing into the Fostering Service.

Uncoupling the shared service with Cambridgeshire, a decision taken by the Conservative Group rightly puts the focus back in Peterborough opening up challenging conversations with our partners to ensure fairer funding is contributed by all agencies - this will be essential in the future.

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Education is overall a good news story. Peterborough schools continue to make satisfactory progress in attainment. It is also the first time Peterborough has had a positive progress 8 outcome. Out of the 151 local authorities, this places Peterborough as 38th nationally, up from 107 previously!

Councillor Lynne Ayers the former Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, Education, Skills & University has played a significant role in shaping our education offer, including the fantastic Peterborough ARU University, who in its first year, won University of the Year for Social Mobility.

The Conservative Group, thank Cllr. Lynne Ayres for her valuable contribution to Children’s Services and her forensic eye for detail. Lynne will be missed from a Cabinet position in Children’s Services now she has been deposed.

In late summer, there were many calls and emails from parents regarding school place availability.

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On investigation, the Admissions team have dealt with a whopping 5901 applications for school places in 2022-23, an increase of 2100. Recognising the pressure from Councils, particularly London Boroughs securing rental properties at lower costs, predicting trends and ensuring new schools are in development and additional classrooms available will be essential for 2023-24 and beyond.

What now! Well as I speak, Ofsted are currently making a full inspection of Children’s Services here in Peterborough and rather worryingly, the current leader Cllr Mohammed Farooq has not announced the presence of Ofsted or requested support and patience for the service groups that are undergoing inspection. It will be vital to Ofsted and the Department of Education, that the leader of Peterborough City Council can demonstrate he has the capabilities, compassion and vision to be the lead champion for the safety and welfare of our cared for children and those most at risk in our communities. I hope he can see that his omission to communicate essential business needs working on! He needs to get a grip here, as at the moment he and his administration are woefully lacking.

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