JOINT PRESS RELEASE FROM ISLE OF WIGHT COUNCIL AND HAMPSHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL
A number of steps designed to strengthen child protection and education services on the Isle of Wight have been announced.
The Isle of Wight Council has outlined a series of measures to swiftly address concerns raised by the recent Ofsted inspection that found arrangements for the protection of children to be inadequate.
Plans are currently being developed to enter into a strategic partnership with Hampshire County Council, with proposals for Hampshire's Director of Children's Services John Coughlan, to assume the statutory role of Director of Children's Services for both councils.
This arrangement, which requires endorsement by the Isle of Wight Council's Employment Committee on 11 March and Full Council approval on 20 March, proposes that both local authorities share the statutory senior leadership and management of Isle of Wight's Children's Services over the next three to five years. This will be also be subject to Hampshire County Council's decision-making processes and approval by the Department for Education (DfE).
The move comes as the Island's council confirmed that the Deputy Director for Children's Safeguarding and Social Care had resigned from post.
The steps are in addition to an additional £375k announced in the proposed budget to bolster child protection services.
Cllr David Pugh, Leader of the Isle of Wight Council, said: "We have moved swiftly to develop these new proposals. By sharing a Director of Children's Services with a neighbouring local authority, which has considerable expertise in this area, we would have the opportunity to achieve the step-change in performance which the Isle of Wight Council urgently needs.
"Under the proposal, if agreed, John Coughlan and his team will provide strong senior management to both children's social care and education. This support to our frontline staff would ensure sound decisions are made for rapid service improvement.
"This represents a model of joint working in Children's Services which is already operating to good effect in other parts of the country.
"As a small local authority we continue to have difficulties in attracting a sufficient calibre of senior management to oversee complex service areas such as these. Many councils of our size have also acknowledged this, and are moving to similar shared management arrangements.
"I would stress this proposed partnership with Hampshire is not part of a budget savings strategy, on the contrary, significant additional resources are being invested in support of strengthening our child protection arrangements. This partnership is entirely focused on sharing and strengthening the leadership of Children's Services on the Isle of Wight and drawing on Hampshire's experience in this field.
"Both authorities would remain responsible for their own political leadership, policy decisions and accountability for their respective services, but by working together we can ensure that our priority to safeguard and improve the education of children and young people on the Island is driven forward.
"We have also separately agreed with the DfE, as part of our response to the inspection, to the establishment of an Improvement Board. The Board will be independently chaired by Professor Ray Jones, who has significant experience in leading both Improvement Boards and a Local Safeguarding Children's Board in other parts of the country, and will hold all agencies to account in matters relating to the safeguarding of children."
Cllr Ken Thornber, Leader of Hampshire County Council said: "Whilst the Isle of Wight Council will clearly remain accountable for its Children's Services, we hope that our expertise in this field can help them improve the quality of their services and in doing so, help safeguard children on the Island by developing and maintaining high quality safe and effective services.
"Hampshire County Council has a proven track record in providing high quality safeguarding services and support for looked after children, having obtained excellent outcomes in its last inspection.
"Shared management between nearby councils is a growing trend in local government and is a sensible way forward. This arrangement will make best use of existing strengths of Hampshire's Children's Services' senior management to support the Isle of Wight's Children's Services department to strengthen its practices, whilst maintaining the individual responsibility in each respective local authority.
"I am sure our senior management staff will be able to offer strong and meaningful support to the Isle of Wight, but this will also provide mutual learning opportunities for both Councils. The two authorities share the same aim of improving outcomes for vulnerable children and their families which will form the binding principle of this partnership."