Sunderland appoints new boss to turn around ‘inadequate’ children’s services

Sunderland Civic Centre
Sunderland Civic Centre
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A council which was slated by Ofsted inspectors for failing Wearside’s most vulnerable children has appointed a new boss to oversee its action plan to raise its standards.

Sunderland City Council has appointed Alex Hopkins as chief executive of the new company being set up to steer forward children’s services.

Councillor Paul Watson.

Councillor Paul Watson.

It comes after Ofsted rated the department and the authority’s safeguarding section as ‘inadequate’ in a report issued last July.

Its political leadership and management was highlighted as an issue - senior officers have since left and Councillor Pat Smith, who had been cabinet member for the service, has been moved out of post, but will chair a scrutiny committee to monitor changes.

The council has since put together a range of changes to overhaul the running of the service, with positive feedback already given on the efforts by the Government.

This includes recruiting new social workers to reduce caseloads, additional investment of £16million, new policies and procedures to support key processes, strengthened management oversight, regular and reliable performance management reports and new scrutiny arrangements.

I’m very much looking forward to taking up my new role in Sunderland and I can’t wait to join the team and be part of the work to improve the lives of children and families in the city.

Alex Hopkins

Mr Hopkins joins the council from Northamptonshire County Council where he is currently director of children’s services, where he led on the complete transformation of children’s services which earlier this month were found by Ofsted to be improved across all areas.

The council has also appointed Simon Marshall as director of education services, Debra Patterson, director of children’s social care, and Suzanne Carty as director for quality assurance and performance.

Sunderland City Council’s cabinet agreed in April to establish a company to deliver children’s services on behalf of the council.
In his new role Mr Hopkins will be responsible for running a brand new organisation charged with delivering the highest quality services, including children’s social care, education and early help services, as well as the infrastructure needed to run fully-integrated children’s services.

The council has been working closely with Nick Whitfield, the commissioner for children’s services, since last July’s Ofsted report to look at how it can do things differently to ensure the best possible service for children and families. 
Council leader Councillor Paul Watson said: “We’re delighted to have appointed Alex to this very important new role.
“He has a proven track record, having played an instrumental role in transforming children’s services in Northamptonshire, and we are very much looking forward to working with him.
“We believe the new organisation, with Alex at its helm, will be a real step forward in delivering the services our children and young people need to live safe, happy, healthy and successful lives.”
Mr Whitfield added: “Alex’s success in leading the transformation in Northamptonshire has resulted in Ofsted recently finding improvement across all areas, and I believe he has the ability to truly transform children’s services in Sunderland.”
Mr Hopkins, whose role will initially sit within the council ahead of the transfer of services to the new company, will take up his post in July.
Council chief executive Irene Lucas said: “This appointment is an important step in completing the new team that will steer forward the improvement of children’s services in Sunderland which is a key priority for the city council.”

Nick Whitfield, commissioner for children's services in Sunderland.

Nick Whitfield, commissioner for children's services in Sunderland.

Mr Hopkins said: “I’m very much looking forward to taking up my new role in Sunderland, and I can’t wait to join the team and be part of the work to improve the lives of children and families in the city.” 
Mr Marshall was previously headteacher of Highfield Primary School in Sunderland which was rated outstanding by Ofsted.

Ms Patterson joins from Gateshead Council and Ms Carty from North Yorkshire County Council, both of which have been rated good by Ofsted.
A report to cabinet in June will look at the governance, structure and scope of services for the new organisation, with a view to it being set up in shadow form from September 2016, before becoming an organisation in its own right next April.