Tower Hamlets Council to take significant action to improve Children's Services

Tower Hamlets Council will be taking immediate steps to improve Children’s Services at a faster rate and in a more comprehensive manner after Ofsted rated it as inadequate overall.

The council fully accepts Ofsted’s findings and will make it an absolute priority to meet, and in some cases exceed, all the recommendations in its report to provide our children, young people and families with a consistent, high quality service.

The council is investing an additional £4.8m into the service this year, has appointed two experienced senior managers to raise standards and is working with Ofsted to create a full improvement plan.

Since the previous Mayor was removed from office (2015) and an independent government review of the council found issues of malpractice and failing to provide value for money.

A new Mayor John Biggs was elected in 2015 who appointed a Chief Executive Will Tuckley and the former National Director for Social Care at Ofsted, Debbie Jones, as Corporate Director for Children’s Service.

They identified problems caused by the merger of Adults’ Services and Children’s Services in 2013, significant underfunding and thresholds for intervention were too high.

Government Commissioners were also sent in to help get the council back on track on issues including transparency, the awarding of grants and governance. They left in March after being satisfied with the progress the council has made and its ability to tackle the significant issues which remain.

Will Tuckley, Chief Executive, said:

“I, along with Debbie Jones, the Corporate Director for Children’s Services, take full responsibility for this report and we will be making it an absolute priority to improve the service working alongside Ofsted.

“As time has gone on, we have found more and more problems with the service and, whilst we have made improvements, they have been not been fast or comprehensive enough.

“The Ofsted report has demonstrated the full scale of work that is needed. We are creating an Improvement Plan with Ofsted that will meet, and in many cases exceed, their recommendations. It will complement our existing work to improve the service.”

Mayor John Biggs said:

“This situation is clearly unacceptable. I have made it clear to the Chief Executive and the Corporate Director of Children’s Services that they must take immediate action to improve the service.

“Tower Hamlets’ children, young people and families deserve a first class service and I am dedicated to achieving that.

“The Ofsted report confirms many of the issues that we have uncovered since the previous Mayor was removed from office in 2015. However, it goes much further in identifying other problems and the fact that the pace of improvement has not been fast enough.

“We will be investing an extra £4.8m into Children’s Services to make improvements following years of underinvestment. We are prepared to invest more to achieve the improvement Ofsted and the council expects.

“Last month, the government said that we now have the right foundation in place to continue to improve the council and tackle historic issues. The Ofsted report is a reminder that we cannot take anything for granted.”

The council will provide its final improvement plan to Ofsted in the coming weeks for approval. Ofsted will then monitor its delivery every quarter.

Notes to editors

  • Last month the Government returned full powers to Tower Hamlets Council. Powers including grant making, procurement and the sale of property were removed in 2014 after independent inspectors Pricewaterhouse Coopers found issues including malpractice and a failure to provide value for money under the previous Mayor Lutfur Rahman. Four Government Commissioners were sent in to support the council in getting the council back on track. See press release.
  • Since then Commissioners worked with Mayor John Biggs and the new Chief Executive Will Tuckley to put the governance in place so that the council can be run correctly, offers value for money and that decisions are transparent and fair.
  • Under the new leadership, the council has overseen significant improvements including transparency and new policies for procurement, awarding grants, whistleblowing and the running of elections.
  • The council still has much work to do in order to change the culture of the organisation. Historic issues continue to be tackled.

Problems with Children’s Services uncovered since 2015 include:

  • A lack of oversight and leadership caused by the merger of Adults and Children’s Directorates.
  • A lack of leadership and continuity because of a culture of employing interims in senior social care roles.
  • A severely underfunded service over the years that relied on using reserves as a short term fix, but stored up significant problems in the long term.
  • Some of our most experienced staff left as a result of high caseloads, shortcomings in career progression and a history of low remuneration packages.
  • Complacency and a lack of challenge and service improvement among officers which led to a lack of innovation and resulted in an old fashioned service.
  • Too many children were left vulnerable when they should have been moved into care because the thresholds for intervention were too high. Services at the front door were poor, inefficient and risky.

Improvements since 2016 include:

  • Making Children’s Services a standalone directorate.
  • Thresholds for intervention were lowered.
  • Recruitment of permanent staff to fill in the gaps in management structure and to replace interims. This is ongoing.
  • £4.8m extra investment to ensure that the service is properly funded, bringing the baseline budget up to where it should be. This will include a better package of training and pay for our social workers. 
  • Strengthening the Corporate Parenting Board with better support for care leavers including traineeships, apprenticeships for young people and internet access. A new advocacy service and improvements to the Children in Care Council which means they are better listened to.
  • Instigating improvements to the Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub.
  • Strengthening relationships with partners including schools.
  • Establishment of an Inspection and Improvement Board with an independent chair to focus on poorer performing areas.
  • Strengthening the approach to reduce the risk of child sexual exploitation.
  • Supporting the introduction of a new Chair of the LSCB and a review of governance, structure and membership.
Posted on Friday 7th April 2017