Concerns raised over Slough SEND service at council meeting

Slough Borough Council’s special educational needs and disability (SEND) service has been described as ‘not fit for purpose’.

Members of the local authority’s audit and corporate governance committee discussed the state of the service during a meeting on Thursday night.

Cllr Safdar Ali (Central, Labour) highlighted that the Risk Management Update Corporate Risk Register states that the current SEND service ‘is not fit for purpose and additional resources are required.’

He asked how long the service had been not fit for purpose and how long the authority could carry on with it not being fit for purpose.

Johnny Kyriacou, associate director for education and inclusion, said: “It’s been unfit for purpose for a while. That’s what was identified.

“That’s partly the reason, not the entire reason for the local area inspection.

“The service has suffered from a turnover of staff at the moment, so part of that is looking at creating some stability with the staffing.”

He added that positive measures have taken place including looking at ‘salary market supplements for those officers’, and recruitment at that level to fill those vacancies is currently taking place.

Mr Kyriacou explained that that is the first step to trying to ‘create stability for the team’ and added that they are currently in negotiations over what extra capacity is required.

In response to a question from committee chair Cllr Waqas Sabah (Labour and Co-Op, Farnham), Mr Kyriacou said that the council first became aware of the issues with the services around 18 months ago.

Cllr Sabah asked what steps had been taken to reduce the risk or escalate the problem, and director of finance Steven Mair responded by stating that the previous director had brought a business case to the Corporate Leadership Team (CLT) which required further work and is currently being looked at.

Cllr Ali added: “I am rather concerned that the council knew the situation was inadequate and unfit for purpose and I can’t see any programme or any proposals which addresses the seriousness of the situation.

“I think we need to understand that we are dealing with young people and children who have difficulties and need a lot of help.

He added: “As far as I’m concerned, we are failing to fulfil our basic duty. It’s not good enough.

“If the council knew in March 2021 that was the situation, steps should have been taken at that time and even if not at that time, soon after that.

“But since March 2021 as far as I can see, hardly anything has been done and I hope that we are not left in this limbo situation for too long, particularly for the sake of the residents and young people.”

Later in the meeting, Cllr Harjinder Gahir (Labour and Co-Op, Wexham Lea) raised concerns over the disposal of assets, stating that he could not see enough clarification or transparency over whether members would know the list of assets being disposed of and who is going to decide which assets are disposed of.

Slough Borough Council is currently working on selling assets including buildings to ease its financial debt issues.

Steven Mair said: “We brought a paper through and suggested at the time that every asset disposal over a million pound would come to cabinet and under a million pound would be in consultation with the relevant lead member and chief officers.

“I think the inclination is to bring more through to cabinet so we may well go below a million pounds so there will be full transparency and you will see the reports that come out and it will be reported through the finance action plan at each council as well.”

Richard West, executive director of customer and community added: “Councillors will decide.

“They will be presented with a list of what we believe to be surplus properties and so they will get an opportunity to review that list of surplus properties and agree or otherwise that they are surplus. So, cabinet will decide what is a surplus property rather than officers.

“The threshold is being looked at because we are keen that cabinet members are the ones that make decisions about which properties are sold and that threshold will be subject to another cabinet paper and its likely to be £500,000.

He added: “The future of this authority is based on our ability to sell our assets for best consideration.”

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