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Wednesday, 16 June 2021

Councillor warns of peril of attack and defence cycle over SEND services in Central Bedfordshire if scrutiny committee’s role neglected

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A councillor has warned about falling into “a cycle of attack and defence” over scrutinising Central Bedfordshire Council’s special educational needs and disability (SEND) services.

The local authority has received the second of four monitoring visits, after a critical Ofsted and Care Quality Commission (CQC) report.

A written statement of action was submitted by CBC and Bedfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group and their improvement plan is making good progress, according to external consultant and SEND programme director Paul Senior.

Details of a SEND partnership data dashboard were scheduled for CBC’s children’s services overview and scrutiny committee in April, but only reached members ahead of the council’s annual meeting last week (13 May 2021).

The information contained within the dashboard helps shape future SEND developments, according to the council.

Conservative Health and Reach councillor Mark Versallion warned the committee: “It’s important not to fall into a cycle of attack and defence.

“That’s always a judgment with scrutiny,” he explained. “Paul, the director and the portfolio holders are all doing a really good job and are sincerely motivated to get it right.

There’s an issue of the credibility of scrutiny if we’ve asked and been promised visibility of something by today’s meeting, whether the SEND partnership board is the appropriate place to have that oversight.

We need to respect this committee’s purpose is also to scrutinise that through its elected members.

If we have to throw health colleagues under a bus then maybe we consider doing that.

Sometimes it’s helpful to say ‘you leave me with no option but to tell them why it’s not available’ for this meeting.

Mr Senior replied: “There are a number of factors why we haven’t got a version that’s ready to be shared externally.

There’s access to regional and national benchmarking data, and the timing of the release of that information.

It’s not about apportioning blame at our health colleagues because they’re reliant on their data input.

There’ve been various versions of the tool and we’ll have something that can be shared.

It wasn’t available for today in a format we felt ready.”

Councillor Versallion, who chairs CBC’s social care, health and housing overview and scrutiny committee meeting, said: “I just hope you can hear what the committee is saying diplomatically.

If you shut us down, it’s going to make us more frustrated and then we fall back into that cycle of attack and defence.

So 80 per cent of something is better than 100 per cent of zero of a perfect document, which we don’t get to see for another three months.

I might just share what I can and explain why the rest is delayed, but to give us nothing can lead to frustration.”

Conservative Cranfield and Marston Moretaine councillor Sue Clark acknowledged: “There was an undertaking the dashboard would be available, and I raised it with the director and Mr Senior.

One of the problems is we’re trying to measure things which aren’t normally measured.

It’s proving extremely complicated to put together the right measures to be compared consistently and uniformly with other parts of the country.

I accept the criticism,” added councillor Clark, who’s executive member for families, education and children.

Parent governor representative Lorraine King asked for the current data to be shared with committee members, saying: “I think the caveats have been very strongly made about the challenges being faced.

But nobody hides good news. If data was coming out which looked good, it would be shared with us in whatever kind of messy format.

Euan Duncan, Local Democracy Reporter
The Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) is a public service news agency: funded by the BBC, provided by the local news sector, and used by qualifying partners. It’s like a franchise: different companies with different approaches, but using common editorial standards and all publishing into the same system.

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