Calls to restore a committee which scrutinised the performance of children’s services will be put forward by the county council leader to its commissioners.
Leader of Northamptonshire County Council, Matt Golby, pledged to approach Tony McArdle and Brian Roberts about reinstating the Children’s Scrutiny Committee, which was dissolved along with four other separate panels in September to be replaced by one larger committee.
It comes after a highly critical Ofsted report earlier this month found that Northamptonshire County Council’s children’s services have ‘significantly declined in the last two years’, resulting in ‘unmanageable caseloads and high volumes of unallocated and unassessed work’ for staff.
Since then the Government has signalled its intention to appoint a third commissioner to the authority, purely to oversee children’s services.
Councillor Golby, who had been portfolio holder for children in the period criticised by Ofsted, ignored calls to resign, but won a round of applause from opposition councillors at Thursday’s full council meeting (November 22) after saying he would raise their concerns over the scrutiny process with the commissioners.
He said: “In light of what we know from the Ofsted report, I think there’s a need to focus in on children’s services. I do appreciate the sentiment from members, and I am happy to take the comments away and go to the commissioners and put those forward.”
The Children, Learning and Communities Scrutiny Committee last met in June, before it was replaced by the new Overview and Scrutiny Committee, which consists of 15 councillors from all political parties to scrutinise key decisions in the authority.
Other scrutiny committees focusing on the environment, finance and health were also abolished.
That decision came from recommendations by the Centre for Public Scrutiny (CfPS), following its review of the council and earlier criticism of the function in the Max Caller report.
Back in September, Councillor Golby had promised to implement the findings of the CfPS review ‘in full’.
Councillor Malcolm Waters pointed out that only two meetings of the new Overview and Scrutiny Committee had taken place, and warned councillors against 'moving back to the past'.
But Conservative councillor Dudley Hughes - a former chairman of the Children’s Scrutiny Committee - claimed that the group had been ignored over the years, and felt that the newly installed committee would struggle to scrutinise children’s services to the required level.
He said: “I don’t see how an Overview and Scrutiny Committee can also look at young people. Ofsted only found a few positives in their report, one of which was the work of the previous committee. But nobody took any notice of it, that was the problem.”
Current portfolio holder for children’s services, Councillor Victoria Perry, also welcomed the idea of re-forming the committee, saying: “I would actually prefer to have my work scrutinised, and I would rather have cross party advice on it.”
Liberal Democrat councillor Dennis Meredith told the council’s new chief executive, Theresa Grant, that the decision to abolish the children’s committee following the advice from CfPS had been ‘wrong’.
He said: “In light of the recent Ofsted report it is essential that children’s services can be scrutinised fully. It is therefore extremely important to get cross party scrutiny up and running as soon as possible."