Overhaul underway as Sunderland’s children’s services boss removed in reshuffle

Councillor Pat Smith
Councillor Pat Smith
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A councillor who came under fire from inspectors for poor leadership which led to failings in the care of Sunderland’s most vulnerable children has lost her cabinet post.

Labour councillor Pat Smith will no longer be Sunderland City Council’s cabinet member for children’s services.

Councillor Peter Wood.

Councillor Peter Wood.

She was not available for comment on the decision, which will see Washington South Councillor Louise Farthing take on the role.

Wearside’s Liberal Democrats have welcomed the decision by council leader Paul Watson, as have Conservatives in the city, who have previously called for Coun Smith to step down.

While she has lost her position on the cabinet, Coun Smith will take up the role of chairman of children’s scrutiny as it oversees improvements.

Coun Watson said: “This will still mean that her vast experience of children’s services and a whole gamut of operations around that will be used for good affect for the city council.

This will still mean that her vast experience of children’s services and a whole gamut of operations around that will be used for good affect for the city council.

Council leader Paul Watson

“But as for the role on the cabinet, that’s really a private matter for the Labour group.

“I appoint them and it would be wrong if people asked for a view.

“I try to keep some stability and stay loyal.”

He added Coun Farthing has proved herself capable in her new role through her experience on the council as lead member for social services.

Sunderland Civic Centre

Sunderland Civic Centre

He said a new head of children’s services was appointed yesterday and will go on to become the chief executive of Total Help for Children.

It is new trust or company being set up to take on the running of the departments at the insistence of Prime Minister David Cameron because of its failings.

Coun Smith had faced calls to resign from her role following the publication of Ofsted’s damning inspection on the department and the council’s children safeguarding work last July.

She has previously told the Echo she would resign if the leader of the council and Labour group Coun Watson wanted her to.

Lib Dem Councillor Niall Hodson.

Lib Dem Councillor Niall Hodson.

Niall Hodson, the newly elected Liberal Democrat councillor for the Millfield ward, said: “It seems that ruling councillors have finally realised that new political leadership is required in the children’s services department, alongside the new staff and outside experts that have been brought into improve things. And not before time.

“Many parents were rightly horrified that leadership in this vital portfolio was not reassigned following the damning report into failures of management at all levels, and it is baffling that this decision is only being taken now.

“I hope that the new leadership – along with the measures being put in place by the Government, staff and the voluntary trust – will bring about the improvements that are desperately needed so that young people and families in Sunderland can get the help and support they need.”

Councillor Peter Wood, leader of the Conservative group on the council, said: “I made the point last summer that Pat Smith should resign over the debacle of children’s services and safeguarding and I think this is belated recognition of that.

“I think Councillor Louise Farthing is a capable member of the council and I have more faith in her than I do in Pat Smith.

“The Conservatives want to work with all the right-thinking members of the council and I’m sure that we all want children’s services to go from being the worst to being the best.”

The leader of council, deputy leader and the five other cabinet positions are all due to stay in the same hands.

All 75 councillors will be asked to ‘note’ the leader’s choices at the council’s annual meeting next Wednesday.

Overhaul underway

An overhaul of the service which cares for the most vulnerable children in Sunderland is well under way.

But with a host of appointments and improvements now already in place or in the pipeline and an additional £16million being invested into the departments, another change in the leadership of the department is being made.

Cabinet member Councillor Pat Smith, along with a series of senior managers, came in for criticism from Ofsted when it published its findings in July – she is now being been moved out of the post.

The council’s leadership, management and governance was graded as inadequate by the checks, as was its work with children who need help and protection and those who are looked after, from adoption to those leaving its care.

The report stated: “This is a corporate failure by senior leaders and managers that leaves children and young people unsafe.”

It highlighted that in the year before the inspection, two independent reviews had reported “significant failings” but issues remained.

This included the services for those missing from home or care, missing from education or at risk of sexual exploitation.

Those who needed to see a social worker regularly did not get that support, while there were delays in receiving help.

As a result of poor management, staff morale was low and there were issues in recruiting new workers.

In recent weeks, a new interim director of children’s services has been appointed after Steve Walker, who works for Leeds Council, returned to his authority full-time following a secondment.

Ann Goldsmith has previously worked with authorities in London, East Anglia and the Midlands, which all saw improvements, and will remain in post until the new director yet-to-be-named director has completed their notice period in their existing role.

Three of the four new directors who will be tasked with turning round its fortunes have been appointed,

New directors for education and safeguarding come are now in place with the director for quality assurance and performance is to start this month.

A recruitment drive is to also bring in 93 new social workers with new policies and procedures, better management oversight, performance management reports and new scrutiny arrangements also part of the plan.

Nick Whitfield, the children’s commissioner for Sunderland and the children’s minister, Edward Timpson, have told the council they have seen evidence of improvements.