Tory bid for seat on committee that oversees children’s services in Sunderland

Coun Robert Oliver.
Coun Robert Oliver.

Councillors are set to decide later this month on the make up of a key scrutiny committee that oversees the running of children’s services in Sunderland.

The leader of Sunderland City Council’s Conservative opposition has spoken out as his party prepares a bid for a greater say in the running of the struggling service.

A damning Ofsted inspection in 2015 saw responsibility transferred from the council to a new organisation Together for Children, which was itself rated ‘Inadequate’ in July this year (2018).

The council’s Children, Education and Skills Scrutiny Committee, which monitors Together for Children, has been one member short since the beginning of August, when Liberal Democrat councillor Stephen O’Brien resigned his place on the committee.

Later this month, the Conservatives plan to try and fill the vacant spot themselves.

Conservative leader Coun Robert Oliver said: “With the recent inadequate rating given by Ofsted to Together for Children [which took over responsibility for children’s services in the city last year (2017)] this is the most important scrutiny committee on the council and it is essential that both the opposition seats are filled and that councillors attend the meetings.

“Many questions need to be asked and performance figures need to be challenged at Together for Children as it is failing the most vulnerable children in the city and costing local residents millions in extra funds every year.

“It is disappointing that the Liberal Democrat and Others Group on the council has decided to give up its seat after failing to attend one single meeting of the committee at a time when scrutiny of Together for Children is needed most.

“It is the role of the opposition to make sure the Labour Group is kept on its toes by opposition councillors, attending scrutiny meetings and putting pressure on the leadership of the council for the benefit of residents.”

Conservative councillor Bob Francis is currently vice chairman of the scrutiny panel and the appointment of a second member would double the party’s representation on it.

Coun O’Brien quit the committee last month without attending a single meeting, claiming it was in protest at the chairmanship of Coun Pat Smith.

Coun Smith was the cabinet member responsible for children’s services in 2015 when Ofsted inspectors delivered their damning verdict.

The next full meeting of Sunderland City Council is scheduled for Wednesday, September 19, when councillors are expected to be given three options for the future of the empty scrutiny seat:

Leave it vacant

Appoint another member of the ‘Liberal Democrat and Others’ political group to maintain current political balances

Agree ‘alternative arrangements’ for the position, which could permit the appointment of a Conservative councillor – however, under council rules this could only be permitted if there are no objections from any other members of the council

Last month, Coun Michael Mordey, the deputy leader of Sunderland City Council said he could ‘see no reason’ why a Conservative councillor should be barred from taking up the seat if the Lib Dems chose to ‘abdicate their responsibilities’.

James Harrison

James Harrison , Local Democracy Reporting Service