A Labour councillor has called on a Conservative portfolio holder to stand aside from her executive role because of special educational needs and disability (SEND) failings in Central Bedfordshire.
Parkside councillor Antonia Ryan delivered a withering assessment of the situation Central Bedfordshire Council finds itself in sifting through an ombudsman’s report on a parental complaint, saying: “I’m absolutely appalled.”
Speaking during an extraordinary meeting of CBC’s children’s services overview and scrutiny committee, councillor Ryan told the executive member for families, education and children Sue Clark she should step down.
But councillor Clark, who’s also deputy leader of the council, said she has no plans to quit and wants to see the improvement process through.
The committee was considering CBC’s response to the ombudsman’s findings on alternative education provision after the complaint from a parent, whose adult son has an autism (ASD) diagnosis.
Councillor Clark explained: “In common with officers, I’m extremely sorry for the distress and anguish which has been caused to this family.
“The council has fully apologised for that unreservedly. The key thing is we need to learn from this and that’s our main focus now.
“We’re making significant changes to our service to ensure other families don’t experience this in future.
“This started back in November 2018 and we know that our service then wasn’t good enough.
“Many of the changes we’ve made since then would mean some of the circumstances this family found itself in wouldn’t be repeated.”
Councillor Ryan retorted: “Councillor Clark, this isn’t an individual case. We’ve just heard from the parents. When will you take responsibility?
“You’re the portfolio holder and you’re failing these people. They’ve taken time out of their day and they’ve been through this journey for years.
“Stop referring to this as an individual matter. I’ve heard you say in 2019, 2020 and 2021 that you’re sorry.
“Pull your socks up and get this service turned around or you should leave. There’s no point in making parents suffer for your incompetence.
“You’ve failed to do that since 2019 to turn this service around. We’re here today because we’ve heard hundreds of stories.
“Parents haven’t seen any difference,” she warned. “In the last 24 hours I’ve been sent five ombudsman reports. You really need to reconsider. Parents have asked you to step down.
“Please, so we can get some work done here and, as the opposition, start working with the member and turn this service around. I’m absolutely appalled.”
Conservative Cranfield and Marston Moretaine councillor Clark replied: “We heard from Pat Bullen, at the last meeting, who’s a very senior practitioner in SEND and who led the Peer review that inspected the service in July.
“Her findings were that we’re making progress. She says, and I readily accept and agree, while we’re working hard our parents aren’t feeling that improvement yet.
“That’s the hurdle we’ve got to get over. And no, I’m not going to resign or step down because there’s work to be done and I’m going to see it through.”
Deputy director of children’s services Sarah Ferguson said: “Regarding the recommendations from the ombudsman’s report, there’s extensive work going on.
“This includes looking at cases and understanding if there are concerns still outstanding. Of course we’ll investigate any cases which come to our attention.”
Director of children’s services Sue Harrison is due to leave the local authority at the end of this month to take up a post with Birmingham City Council.