The report was presented by Michele Lucas.
The Vice-Chair asked what constituted safe and unsafe routes. He also asked if children would still have access to Michele Lucas explained that the service looked at the walking and public transport routes that enabled a child to go safely from their home to school. This involved legal advice to check what was deemed a safe route. For children that were unable to access these routes, individual assessments would be carried out. She firmly stated that the service would not let children travel on unsafe routes.
Councillor Watson mentioned that some children were not able to travel on public transport due to personal and mental health issues. She sought clarification on the service’s criteria for vulnerable children. Michele Lucas answered that safe routes were assessed for mainstream schools and that SEND pupils were assessed to identify whether they could access public transport. Where SEND pupils could not, the service would support. She went on to say that there were travel plans in place from schools and parents had approached the service for support in encouraging independence for post-16 SEND pupils. The service would support young people who were not able to access public transport.
The Chair commented that the report was lacking in details and asked what the operating model was and why it had not been brought to scrutiny earlier as the work on this had been ongoing for the past 12 months. She said that a previous work programme meeting had suggested that the report would include organisational charts. She noted that Michele Lucas had mentioned that 12.5 full time equivalent (FTE) places had been removed and sought clarity on this. She said it was hard to scrutinise the changes proposed and the impact of these on education and skills. She commented that the report did not highlight what services were being offered and which ones were a statutory service. She went on to say that the report’s recommendation was for noting but felt that the report was serious and commented that paragraph 7 suggested that there would be more reductions to come in the future. She stated that she was not happy to recommend the report or the proposals to Cabinet and that the Committee had not been able to fully assess the proposals before Cabinet in December.
Sheila Murphy explained that different versions of reports went through various checks before a final version was completed which was the version that was before Committee. She said that the 12.5 FTEs were vacancies but could not name the posts due to the current HR process going on. With the operational model, there were no charts to compare the difference as the proposals were still in the consultation stages but these could be presented once the operating model was confirmed. She explained that every directorate in the Council had a budget gap to close hence Children’s Services’ proposals in the report. With school effectiveness, most of the duties now lay with academies as the funding no longer came to the Council, therefore Children’s Services was looking at how to run their statutory duties more effectively.
With the open vacancies, the Chair questioned whether this had contributed to closing the budget gap and savings in the last financial year. She asked how many vacancies had been held in Education and Skills last year and whether any staff had been put on notice. Sheila Murphy answered that the vacancies may have offset another budget but was not considered savings as it was a post that would still be spent. She explained that holding vacant posts were for redeployment purposes to enable staff at risk of redundancy an opportunity to fill these vacant posts. Staff in Education and Skills were not currently at risk of redundancy.
Councillor Watson sought more detail on the proposed closure of two nurseries in Tilbury in regards to savings and the number of staff currently employed there. She also asked whether placements would be found for the children that was currently attending the nurseries. Sheila Murphy answered that councils no longer managed nurseries and Thurrock was one of the few left that did. She said that there were 33 part time staff in both nurseries and that there would be a saving of around £130,000. She said that placements would be found for children. She went on to say that the service would go through the consultation stage to find a provider to manage each nursery. If there were no providers to take over the nurseries, then the Council would look to closing the nurseries in the summer term next year but the consultation process had not started yet.
Councillor Watson stated that she was not happy with the nurseries closing and that the report was not detailed enough as it was unclear on what the operating model would be. She said that the criteria for vulnerable children needed to be widened. She asked what services would be provided by Children’s Services following the reductions. Michele Lucas answered that the operating model would focus on SEND learners and vulnerable children. She explained that the Council’s statutory duties included SEND education, educational psychology and support services for education welfare. There would still be some services under education that was funded such as youth and skills. She went on to say that it was the Council’s duty to provide nursery placements but not to run nurseries.
The Chair asked whether the 33 part time staff in the nurseries would go if there was no provision found. Councillor Anderson asked whether there were enough placements in the borough for the children in the two nurseries. Sheila Murphy confirmed yes to both questions.
Councillor Snell felt that there was enough detail in the report and pointed out that the Council had a budget deficit. He commented that the service was looking to retain staff and that the Council’s statutory duties remained. Councillor Akinbohun sought clarification on the position of the staff members if another provider was found. Councillor Thandi sought clarification on the funding placements for children. Michele Lucas explained that a negotiation process would take place to ensure that staff were protected and that there was a HR and legal process involved for this. She said that the funding placements followed the child as part of the Early Years scheme.
1.1 That Children’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee noted the proposals identified to contribute to savings to offset the funding gap.
1.2 This report to
this committee seeks specific comment on the relevant items which
fall within its remit and which requires further member scrutiny
prior to final cabinet decisions being made on the relevant
The Chair suggested an
additional recommendation, which read:
“That the Children's Services O&S Committee recommend that Cabinet does not move forward with these savings which potentially would risk the Council's ability to fulfil its statutory duties.”
This was seconded by Councillor Watson. A vote was held. There were two votes in favour of the recommendation (Councillors Muldowney and Watson), and four votes against (Councillors Akinbohun, Anderson, Thandi, and Snell). Therefore the proposed recommendation was not agreed.