Birmingham children’s services boss Peter Duxbury quits hot seat after 15 months
A government improvement notice was issued to Birmingham in 2009 and is still in place today, having been renewed along the way following further Ofsted inspections. Children’s social services remain inadequate and failing and there is little likelihood of special measure being lifted this side of 2015.
The period since Mr Howell’s departure has seen substantial shake up of managerial positions in social services, a non-stop merry-go-round of people in and out of the door with yet another turnover since Mr Duxbury arrived. Assistant directors and deputy directors have been hired and disappeared almost as quickly, but the department is still failing to meet many of the improvement targets laid down by ministers.
It should be noted, also, that the four years since the improvement notice was first issued have coincided with unparalleled cuts in council funding with more than £70 million disappearing from the children’s services budget. The challenge, therefore, is to oversee a change agenda and improve performance with far less money and fewer staff.
Underlying all of this has been the failure of politicians to get to grips with the shortcomings of children’s social services.
Les Lawrence, Tory cabinet member for CYPF 2004-2012, was highly regarded as a schools expert, but often seemed at sea when it came to getting to grips with social workers and managers.
The final years of Birmingham council’s Tory-Lib Dem coalition were remarkable for the appointment of veteran Tory councillor Len Clark as executive member for children’s services. Clark had published a highly acclaimed scrutiny report lambasting the department for “years of under-performance and systemic failure”.
Clark lost his council seat in 2011 to be replaced as executive children’s services member by fellow Tory councillor Matt Bennett, who had little time to make an impact before losing his seat in 2012 in the Labour landslide that saw the end of the coalition.
Bennett gave evidence at a recent scrutiny committee, laying into a department that appeared out of control and incapable of being reformed. He said an attempt by himself and the then cabinet member Les Lawrence to have under-performing officers removed was simply ignored, while education officials pressed ahead with plans to have all special needs children educated in mainstream schools against the wishes of the ruling coalition.
Mr Bennett told the committee: “The children’s services department is a shambles and has always been a shambles. You can’t polish a turd.”
The latest cabinet member to hold the poisoned chalice is Brigid Jones, a young Selly Oak Labour councillor and physics graduate who was given the post in May 2012 after just a year on the council. Her appointment prompted general gasps of astonishment given such inexperience and there were many willing to bet that she wouldn’t keep the job for very long.