No more improvement board supervision for Powys social services

Supervision of social services in Powys by an internal board is being removed because of the improvements made by the department in just under four years, it has been confirmed.

Dr Caroline Turner, the chief executive of Powys County Council
Dr Caroline Turner, the chief executive of Powys County Council

At a meeting of Powys County Council’s cabinet on Tuesday, councillors agreed changes to how the council will continue to improve its services.

A year ago, the Welsh Government announced that the work of the Improvement and Assurance Board would come to an end in the autumn of 2020.

This board had overseen changes in both social services and education in the hope they would improve following critical inspection reports in 2017 and 2019.

The Improvement and Assurance Board was replaced by four Service Improvement Boards (SIB) and a Corporate Improvement Board, overseeing all of them.

This structure will change again as the authority looks to get back to a more normal footing and councillors on scrutiny committees will get to play a crucial role in the process.

Council chief executive Dr Caroline Turner explained how things should work from now on.

She said: “Any improvement arrangement should be until improvements are embedded and able to return to rely on our business as usual arrangements.

“That is the position we have reached with Social Services, CIW (Care Inspectorate Wales) were content when they had the last improvement conference in October that we no longer needed enhanced monitoring.

“We did maintain our improvement arrangements for a few months, but we are now confident that the arrangements in the service are sufficiently robust not to need an additional layer of meetings and reports.

“We have also seen an improvement to the Health and Care scrutiny committee, which is an additional layer of assurance we are able to rely on.

“It’s appropriate to stand down the SIB.”

But the SIB for education is set to be strengthened ahead of a crunch conference with education watchdog Estyn, in November.

Dr Turner explained that there had been improvements in the management of school funding, a new strategy to improve Additional Learning Needs (ALN) as well as stronger support for schools.

Headteachers representing secondary, primary, special school or pupil referral units would be added to the SIB as well as chairman of the Learning and Skills scrutiny committee, Councillor Pete Roberts.

Dr Turner said: “This will drive even greater focus to maintain the educational improvement and should certainly put us in a good place for our next improvement conference with Estyn in November.

Dr Turner added that there had been “good improvements” with Housing and a “sharper focus” will be given to HTR (Highways Transport and Recycling) and SIBs would remain in place for these services.

This month a final meeting of the CIB will take place, and from September, a “regular slot for improvement” will be part of cabinet and cabinet management meeting.”

Dr Turner added: “Scrutiny have a key role in monitoring performance and improvement, we are working with scrutiny chairs on how to strengthen it in Powys.”

“We maintained our focus on improvement throughout the whole of the last year despite the impact of covid on many of these services.”

Council leader, Minister visits to see canal potential Rosemarie Harris, said that the council is now “very much on top of improvements.”

Councillor Rachel Powell is the cabinet member responsible for Children’s Social Services and had been in post for less than six months when the inspection reports were published in October 2017 which plunged the council into crisis.

She said that she had been thankful for all the help given to the council by external advisors.

This she believed had brought a change of culture to the council, becoming more “self-reflective”, and “problem solving”.

“The whole process has been very effective, and we are at a place which is really healthy, but there’s always challenges on the horizon,” said Councillor Powell.

All the changes were approved unanimously by the cabinet.

The Improvement and Assurance Board was established in March 2018 to: “assist the leader in driving forward the required change and improvement in the local authority.”

It followed the highly critical report by the Care Inspectorate Wales (CIW) into the council's children’s services which was published in October 2017.

Following the critical Estyn inspection in September 2019, the education service was added to the board’s remit.

The board was chaired independently by the former chief executive of Swansea Council Jack Straw.

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