18th October 2018
By Graham Smith
Cornwall’s social workers are reeling this morning (Thursday) from news that their leadership team at County Hall is to leave.
The three most senior figures in the Children’s Services department – Trevor Doughty, Jack Cordery and Jane Black – will all leave Cornwall Council next year. All three are highly regarded in their sector and are credited with having rescued a service which had been previously been condemned as “inadequate” and which had been in special measures.
Mr Doughty is the Strategic Director for Children and Families, Mr Cordery is the Service Director and Ms Black is the Service Director for Education and Early Years. There are no obvious candidates for their replacement. Their department is currently rated as “Good” by Ofsted.
At the same time, the Children’s Services team is being merged with that part of the National Health Service which provides some community facilities. The “One Vision” plan – which includes a suggestion that some services in future might be means-tested – is currently out for public consultation, while the workers who deliver those services still do not know if they are to privatised into a new company, or stay “in-house” in some new directorate based at County Hall.
The future of the Children’s Services department might be settled at a council cabinet meeting next month. But it has long been known that there were tensions between Mr Doughty and the council’s chief executive, Kate Kennally. Various “Alternative Delivery Vehicles” to restructure the department have been considered, and rejected.
One councillor with expert knowledge of the Children’s Services team told Cornwall Reports: “This is an absolute bloody disaster. The leadership of the council don’t know what they’ve done – it is madness to let this team go.
“Children’s Services in Cornwall now has an Ofsted rating of ‘Good.’ Not long ago things were so bad there had to be intervention from Whitehall and direct rule by the civil service. The progress that has been made has been against a background of budget cuts – it’s always ‘do more, with less’ – and these people have delivered.
“God knows what’s going to happen. We’ll be bloody lucky to find anyone else who is remotely as good. The trouble is that children’s services are not seen as a priority in Cornwall and the ruling administration has taken its eye off the ball.
“It’s like having been three-nil down, fighting back to 3-3, but then losing your three best players. It’s madness.”
In 2010, after a series of high-profile social work disasters and a succession of Children’s Services directors, the government appointed Lucy de Groot to investigate the council’s failings. Ofsted had highlighted shortcomings in risk assessments, planning, recording of information and social worker visits, and inconsistency in providing services. Senior managers had been singled out for being “ineffective” and for failing to provide consistent support for staff.
Among the issues the Children’s Services team has had to deal with more recently was the case of former Launceston Liberal Democrat councillor Alex Folkes, who had been branded a potential threat to children because of an historic arrest relating to indecent images found on his computer.
Cornwall Reports understands that Jane Black is to leave the council at the end of March next year, and that both Mr Doughty and Mr Cordery will follow before the end of 2019.
Mr Doughty, who has been at Cornwall Council for eight years, was recently seconded as a Commissioner to help restore the battered reputation of Surrey County Council’s children’s services.
Cornwall Reports has approached the council’s cabinet portfolio holder, councillor Sally Hawken, for comment but she has not replied.