Central Bedfordshire Council: SEND response progress
A demand for heads to roll after a slow response to a highly critical special education needs and disabilities (SEND) inspection in Bedfordshire has been dubbed “political grandstanding”.
A draft improvement plan by Central Bedfordshire Council was due to be completed by May, following the report by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC).
But the pandemic has delayed the whole process, the council’s children’s services overview and scrutiny committee heard.
Describing the report in January as “shockingly bad”, Independent Potton councillor Adam Zerny said: “This department tells us it still hasn’t finished the report and wants us to wait until November.
“Today we’re asked to note the progress of this department since March. What progress? A handful of meetings and an empty promise of a report by November.
“The parents are horrified that children’s services got into the situation it did, and they are amazed that nothing has changed.
“We’re given a report with phrases like providing genuine options, achieving a vision, culture shifts. It’s utter drivel. It’s meaningless. Despite the dreadful mess we’re in, there are some shining lights.
“I speak to front line officers who are working hard for parents, despite limited resources.”
He also paid tribute to the parents and the kids, “who’ve had to fight every step of the way for what they deserve”, and the SEND parents group, SNAP.
“It’s had three months to write a single report,” he added. “We can’t blame Covid-19 for everything. This has been a wasted year. I’ve seen attempts today to spread the blame, mentioning the partnership and all the other groups involved. This council is responsible.
“We need change at the top. The senior management and senior councillors must take responsibility, and hand over to others who can manage this more effectively.”
Conservative Arlesey councillor David Shelvey, who chairs the committee, blamed the delay on the pandemic, which has changed the priorities of the inspection teams.
“It’s not excuses,” he said. “COVID-19 has had a major impact.”
Independent Ampthill councillor Mark Smith said: “Two words that spring out from the report are incompetence and fight.
“Scrutiny was one of the central issues highlighted, lack of scrutiny by executive members clearly not on top of their brief.
“Have they been kept in the dark?” he asked. “Or have they done nothing knowing these issues were around?
“I also understand from parents that attend those meetings several of them called for the resignation of directors, so again we’re not getting a full picture.
“There’s undoubtedly a mountain to climb to rebuild trust in the authority. CBC and Bedfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group need to get a grip on this.
“It simply cannot be right a section of residents have been, and I hate to use the word, victimised by these authorities. There appears to be a lot of high level talks, but little to change the lives of those SEND families in the short-term.”
Conservative Leighton Buzzard South councillor Amanda Dodwell, who’s the deputy executive member for families, education and children, said: “There are no excuses from me.
“I’m committed, and I know the officers and councillor Sue Clark are, to address the six points listed in the Ofsted/CQC report.
“I do agree it needs to be a culture change in the authority. We don’t want a second rate service. We had a bit of political grandstanding going on. We have been slow coming forward with the written statement of action.
“But COVID has made it more difficult to work with our partners.”