Education

03.09.18

Dorset council merger has ‘inhibited’ Bournemouth services improvements, Ofsted says

The upcoming merger that will abolish the existing nine current district Dorset councils and replace them with two unitary authorities has “inhibited” Bournemouth’s ability to deliver improvements to children’s services, the education inspectorate has said.

In a report published last week, Bournemouth Borough Council received ‘requires improvement’ ratings for overall effectiveness of children’s social care services, the experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers, and the experiences and progress of children who help and need protection. Worse yet, the impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families was given an ‘inadequate’ rating.

Children’s services in Bournemouth, which will join with nearby Christchurch and Poole councils to form a single unitary authority, were said to have been negatively impacted by the merger due to factors including a lack of senior leaders to ensure the deliverance of practice improvements.

The report, written by HM lead inspector Nicola Bennett, said: “A planned local government re-organisation of Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole into a single local authority, and the delivery of a number of frontline services, such as the out-of-hours children’s service and multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH), in partnership with other authorities, has inhibited the ability of the local authority to deliver timely service improvements.

“A reduction in the number of senior leaders has also impacted on the capacity of the local authority to ensure effective oversight of service performance to deliver practice improvements,” she added.

The report’s findings emphasise similar issues facing local councils around the UK: last week, for example, Oxfordshire County Council proposed cutting up to almost 900 jobs in an effort to make savings to meet demand for children’s care, while Highland Council—which faces a looming deficit and has been forced to defer non-essential spending—highlighted children’s services as the biggest area for concern.

Jane Portman Managing Director of Bournemouth Borough Council said: “We welcome the findings in the report which has identified strengths and areas to improve further. These are our focus and our priority and progress is already underway to address the issues raised. 

"The Council has already established an Improvement Board to oversee implementation of the robust action plan and ensure necessary improvements are made quickly.”

Councillor Nicola Greene, Cabinet member for Education and Children’s Services said: “Whilst we acknowledge that some of our services need focused improvement to be judged as ‘good’, we are confident that the future can and will be consistently bright for Children’s Services in Bournemouth.

"The establishment of the new council for Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole, now just seven months hence, along with the skills, commitment and enthusiasm for change amongst our staff right now, means we have the basis upon which to build a service that performs well across the board.”

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