Norfolk MPs defend ‘pressure’ applied on departing children’s services boss

Lisa Christensen who has just been appointed director of children's services at Norfolk County Hall.

Lisa Christensen who has just been appointed director of children's services at Norfolk County Hall.Photo: Denise BradleyCopy: Maria FulcherFor: EDP Archant Norfolk pics © 2004(01603) 772434 - Credit: Archant © 2004

Norfolk MPs who have been criticised for putting pressure on the county's head of children's services to quit have defended their stance after it was announced she would be stepping down.

Lisa Christensen said on Friday she would be taking early retirement next month from the role, insisting she would leave the post with her head held high, but that pressure from the county's MPs led to her decision.

The move came after a torrid few months for the department, which included a damning Ofsted report on the standard of education at schools, a report criticising work to safeguard children and wide-scale criticism from the county's MPs,

Following Friday's announcement, James Joyce, children's services cabinet member for safeguarding at the county council, said the decision was right, but branded the 'grandstanding' by MPs as 'unhelpful' and 'irresponsible'.

Meanwhile, over the weekend, the 56-year-old's departure was referred to as 'counter-productive' in both the short and long-term by Richard Draper, chief executive of Norfolk children's charity the Benjamin Foundation, who described Ms Christensen as 'passionate and dedicated to the needs of children and their families'.

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He said 'shining the spotlight' on Ms Christensen 'to make the current education and safeguarding issues in Norfolk personal is to miss the point and fails to understand the complexity and detail of the underlying situation'.

But Norfolk MPs who issued a statement calling for an interim board to be brought in to take over the running of children's services – which amounted to a vote of no confidence in Ms Christensen, defended their behaviour.

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Norman Lamb, North Norfolk MP, said he had 'no doubt at all' about Ms Christensen's 'integriity' and knew she was a 'very committed professional' but said 'ultimately you have to have accountability'.

He added: 'I think it's interesting that the cabinet member James Joyce has himself said that he thinks it was the right decision.'

Mr Lamb said the media had rightly highlighted two Ofsed reports, the first concerning the safeguarding of children in February and the second in relation to school performance, which justified pressure from the county's MPs.

He said: 'When Ofsed raises serious concern about the leadership of the organisation in their report its totally legitimate for MPs to raise these issues and call for changes to address them. It wasn't just the safeguarding issues. It was only a month later that Ofsed reported again on schools performance and the fact Norfolk is near the bottom of the league table for education across the whole country.

'Are we just supposed to stand back and let that situation continue?

'Lisa Christensen is the chief officer, director of children's services. She's on a very good salary and good pension and the reason why people are paid at a very high level is they are responsible for ensuring the service is a good one and when Ofsted reports things it has done in both these areas then questions have to be asked.'

Henry Bellingham, North West Norfolk MP, also thought MPs were right to take the action they did, although accepted Ms Christensen had much of which to be proud during her time at County Hall.

He said: 'I think she can be proud of a lot of achievements and actually has made progress in many areas like the academy schools programme.

'I think the problem was the Ofsted reports, and Ofsted were very critical of certain shortcomings and did make it clear that they expected action to be taken and serious progress to be in place by April.

'What really frustrated MPs was the lack of real urgency and lack of real progress around these particular areas.'

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