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Concerns Over Lack of Information on Children’s Home Closure

Published on: 11 May, 2022
Updated on: 13 May, 2022

By Emily Coady-Stemp

local democracy reporter

Concerns over transparency have been raised about the lack of information handed to councillors over one of its own council-run children’s homes which closed after “significant failings” were uncovered.

Several councillors have come forward to the LDRS claiming they first heard about issues at the children’s home through media reports of the Ofsted findings. The home is run by Surrey County Council.

This was despite their roles on a children’s select committee, a corporate parenting board and as the leader of the largest opposition party.

The home was closed two days after an interim inspection on February 9, 2022, which found staff shortages and “significant” management failings left its residents at risk “of significant harm”.

Surrey County Council, whose children’s services department had its Ofsted rating upgraded to ‘requires improvement’ from ‘inadequate’ in March, claimed it was closed because the building was no longer fit for purpose.

The county council also confirmed the issue will be brought to a select committee meeting at the beginning of June, but did not issue a statement on concerns over communications surrounding the closure.

‘We need to be told what’s going on’

Cllr Fiona White

Cllr Fiona White (Lib Dem, Guildford West) sits on the children, families, lifelong learning and culture select committee and the Surrey corporate parenting board at the county council.

The select committee is made up of cross-party councillors and gives the opportunity for scrutiny of the department’s decisions.

The county council’s website describes the corporate parenting board as providing “robust assurance of the whole corporate parenting system, ensuring Surrey is an outstanding corporate parent to its children”.

Surrey County Council has since confirmed that this issue will be brought to an extraordinary meeting of the select committee in early June.

Cllr White believes members should have received an email to inform them what was going on “as soon as [the council] could”.

She said part of the committee’s role was to scrutinise and hold the administration to account, adding: “We can’t do that unless we are told what is going on.”

All councillors to play a scrutiny role

Cllr Fiona Davidson

Cllr Fiona Davidson said there was a select committee meeting on April 7 – nearly two months after the home had closed and after Ofsted’s report had been made public on March 26 – where she says she would have “expected” to be informed about the closure and “significant failings”.

At a full council meeting on March 22, more than a month after the closure of the home, members voted through a motion committing to continuing to improve children’s services in the county, and thanking department staff for their work.

The motion also asked “members of the council to reflect upon their own role in future improvement work through scrutiny and challenge and by developing our community leadership of the wider children’s system in Surrey.”

Cllr Davidson (R4GV, Guildford South-East) said after the meeting: “We were told at full council that that improvement journey required the active participation of councillors in their scrutiny role.

“And I don’t understand how [we’re] not being made aware of this information, and yet being asked to undertake that role.”

Cllr Nick Darby

‘Doing the best we can for the children of Surrey’

Cllr Nick Darby (Dittons and Weston Green Residents, The Dittons) is the residents’ association and independent group leader on Surrey County Council.

He said his starting point was “wanting to do the very best we can for the children of Surrey” but that the role of opposition in providing scrutiny in a “meaningful way” was difficult if they did not have all the information.

Cllr Clare Curran

On April 26, Cllr Clare Curran (Conservative, Bookham and Fetcham West), cabinet member for children and families, gave an update to a county council cabinet meeting as part of the ‘cabinet member of the month’ agenda item.

Cllr Darby had given advanced notice that he wish to asked questions, and began to ask about the “efficiency and transparency of the children’s service” and specifically about the closed children’s home which had been closed more than two months previously.

He was told by meeting chair and council leader Tim Oliver (Conservative, Weybridge) that it was an “operational matter” and not appropriate for discussion in the meeting.

Cllr Darby said after the meeting it was important that there is transparency “at all levels”.

He said he did not want to take away from the “significant efforts” of many at the council who had worked hard over the last four years to get the council’s children’s department Ofsted rating from “inadequate” to “requires improvement”.

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