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MPs “extremely concerned” council leaders still failing children after murders

The Education Select Committee has written to the new Education Secretary raising concerns over the leadership of Solihull Council and Bradford Council and their ability to safeguard other vulnerable children following the murders of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson.

28/09/22

MPs “extremely concerned” council leaders still failing children after murders

Chair of the Education Select Committee Robert Halfon (pictured above) has written an incendiary letter to new Education Secretary Kit Malthouse to highlight “serious concerns” with the current leadership of Solihull and Bradford Councils.

The Committee grilled representatives from the councils at a recent accountability hearing held in June this year following the murders of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson in 2020 but said that the responses from the leaders of both councils were “inadequate”.

“We had hoped that these local authority representatives would provide us with an explanation of why major failings were made by both Council’s Children’s Services in the cases of Arthur and Star and provide us with evidence and reassurance that those failings will never happen again,” the letter said. “Unfortunately, we found the responses from both councils inadequate, leaving us extremely concerned as to whether the current leadership of Solihull and Bradford Councils will be able to safeguard other vulnerable children.”

Robert Halfon, Conservative MP for Harlow and Chair of the Education Select Committee said several members of the committee felt that both Chief Executives failed to take accountability for the mistakes made by the respective councils they lead.

Nick Page has led Solihull Council since 2014, while Kersten England has been Chief Executive of Bradford Council since 2015. Despite their long tenures, the Committee says that Children’s Services in both local authorities have “significantly declined”.

In Solihull, Children’s Services was rated as ‘Requires Improvement’ by Ofsted in its last two inspections (2016 and 2019), with its 2019 inspection noting that “in some instances, cases were closed without sufficient information being gathered”. In February this year, Solihull was issued with an Improvement Notice following ongoing concerns around weaknesses in part of its Children’s Services.

In Bradford, Children’s Services was rated as ‘Inadequate’ by Ofsted in 2018. Ofsted noted that Children’s Services had “rapidly deteriorated” since its last inspection. Following this inspection, the Department for Education issued Bradford Council with an “Improvement Notice” and an Improvement Advisor was appointed. In January this year, the Children’s Services Commissioner concluded that “control of children’s services be removed from the Council for a period and an alternative delivery model developed”.

The Directors of both Bradford and Solihull’s Children’s Services at the time of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson’s deaths have resigned, but the Chief Executives have continued in their roles – despite what the Committee has labelled “catastrophic errors of judgement”.

“Both Chief Executives are paid significant tax-payer funded salaries to lead and improve these councils. The demise of both Children’s Services and significant failures made in the cases of Arthur and Star suggests they are failing, and for that, there must be accountability,” the letter said.

“It is our view that the Department for Education and Ofsted should assess the progress being made on the improvements to Children’s Services in Solihull and Bradford Council, within the timeframes outlined above. If those improvements have not been made, consideration should be given to whether both Chief Executives are capable of continuing to try and establish such significant change.”

Responding to the letter, Chief Executive of Solihull Council Nick Page said he was “determined” to continue to lead the council’s efforts to make the necessary changes.

“The tragic circumstances around Arthur Labinjo-Hughes’ murder, by the very people meant to love and care for him, has had a shocking impact on Arthur’s family, me personally and across the whole Solihull community and nationally.

“I have acknowledged and accepted the findings of both the JTAI and the National Panel reports and been committed to improving safeguarding in Solihull.

“We have already made important improvements to our practices though our Improvement Board overseen by independent chair, Penny Thompson CBE.

“I understand that people want to see action and that we are making a positive difference to children and young people’s lives in Solihull.

“This is why I am determined to continue to lead our efforts to make the necessary changes, to drive through the recommendations.

Page highlighted the fact that a brand-new leadership team had been set up within Children’s Services with Pete Campbell taking up the Director’s role in October, and two Assistant Directors already in post.

“It would be too easy to walk away now, particularly with this level of criticism, however, I honestly feel I am best placed to work with colleagues and partners to address the issues we face.

“This is extremely complex and difficult work that few outside the profession really understand, changing leadership now would be detrimental to the improvement journey we are on.”

A spokesperson for Bradford Council said it is “a matter of public record” that they acknowledge and fully accept the findings of the National Panel report which was led by Annie Hudson.

“As a Council we are clear about the actions we need to take to improve services and make sure that children in our district are safe. We are implementing these at pace. We cooperated fully with the Department for Education’s Commissioner-led review which was a thorough appraisal of the challenges that have faced children’s services. The most recent Ofsted monitoring visit, the result of which was published this month, has also highlighted recent improvements in the delivery of services,” the spokesperson said.

“We are currently working well with the Department for Education and we are making good progress towards establishing the Bradford Children and Families Trust which was a key recommendation from the Commissioner’s review.”

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