Children’s Services improving but workforce issues remain says commissioner

2nd November 2022

A government commissioner appointed to review Children’s Services in Sefton says that improvements are being made but there must be “significant additional pace to the improvement work” in the coming months.

Commissioner Paul Moffatt was appointed by the government earlier this year to report on changes to Children’s Services in Sefton, following the latest in a series of damning Ofsted assessments published in May.

In his final report published last week, Mr Moffatt says that while “the Council has made a good start to its improvement work […] its progress remains hampered by workforce challenges, quality of practice, which is still not good enough, and as yet ineffective and unaligned improvement mechanisms.”

Mr Moffatt has stopped short of recommending that Sefton be stripped of running the service, instead suggesting that a new commissioner be appointed for continued oversight as part of 21 recommendations made to Sefton Council.

The report praises a number of changes made relating to the relationship between senior leaders and staff who report “a more positive experience of organisational culture” but highlighted that “recruitment remains a major challenge”.

Mr Moffatt says there is an: “over reliance on agency staff and ‘managed service’ teams. As is often the case with long term failure, the workforce has not yet been sufficiently skilled and developed, and they are now dealing with very complex legacy cases which also result from previous safeguarding failure”

Cllr Mhairi Doyle, Sefton’s Cabinet Member for Children’s Social Care, welcomed the recommendations while Cllr Mike Prendergast called has called on the council to commit to “a more open and transparent system.”

Cllr Mhairi Doyle said: “We welcome the Commissioner’s recommendations and we will continue with our plans for our ongoing improvement to Children’s Services in Sefton. We would like to thank the Commissioner for the help, support and advice he has given us.

“We are already making significant changes to our service following our Ofsted rating in May, and in fact a number of those were made in the period between the Commissioner submitting his report, and it being published.

“The Commissioner’s recommendations show that Sefton has the capacity and capability to deliver services through our new Executive Director of Children’s Services and his new team. Our focus now is getting on with the job, and we are fully committed to making the improvements necessary so that children in Sefton are safe, protected and inspired to reach their full potential.

“We look forward to the appointment of a new commissioner who will offer support, guidance and challenge and ultimately work with us to deliver the best outcomes for children, young people and families in Sefton.”

Martin Birch, Executive Director of Children’s Services, said: “Whilst I acknowledge that Sefton Council Children’s Services still has far to go on its improvement journey, I was pleased to read that the Commissioner believes that the Council has made a good start to its improvement work through new leadership arrangements, readiness to accept support, and the start of a cultural shift.

“Our staff are our most important asset, and I’m really pleased to hear that they are now feeling reassured, with a renewed sense of optimism. Feedback from our staff has included that the management team are more open, visible and approachable, managers are listening, and it feels like a good place to work. This is clearly a great start to our improvement journey, and we are working very hard to ensure that we provide the very best services to children and families moving forward.

“I am confident that together with our wonderful workforce, and our supportive partners, we can deliver our Improvement Plan, and turn Children’s Services in Sefton around.”

Councillor Prendergast said: “I welcome the report by Mr Moffatt and have no doubt that all of his recommendations will be taken on board. Whilst it is incredibly disappointing to get to this position, I am hopeful that things can be turned round for the benefit of children in Sefton.

“I do recognise that changes have been made and are continuing with staff working hard to bring this about, having visited the department to see for myself the work being done. I think there is a genuine willingness to change and improve.

“However, we cannot be complacent and we must continue to hold those in charge to account.

“The change in culture required to bring about improvement is significant and I would once again urge the Labour administration to review the structure of the relevant Overview & Scrutiny Committee and release the minutes of Improvement Board meetings. We need more openness and more accountability.

“The lack of adequate political oversight is at least in part why we have ended up in this situation.”