‘Norfolk’s children deserve better than this seemingly never ending procession of interim staff’ - concerns raised as Norfolk’s children’s services department appoints fifth head in less than four years

Matt Dunkley, the new interim director of Norfolk County Council's children's services department. P

Matt Dunkley, the new interim director of Norfolk County Council's children's services department. Pic: Norfolk County Council. - Credit: Norfolk County Council

Concerns have been raised that Norfolk's troubled children's services department is to get yet another temporary director - the fifth person to head the service in less than four years.

Matt Dunkley, CBE, a former director of children's services in East Sussex, will become interim director of Norfolk County Council's children's services next month.

As reported yesterday, he takes over the department from his previous role in Australia where he was suspended last year but then reinstated.

Mr Dunkley joins as the temporary head of a department twice rated inadequate by watchdogs - just two months after another interim director was appointed.

It means, since 2013, when department director Lisa Christensen resigned after Ofsted rated the department inadequate for the first time, the department has had three interims - Sheila Lock, Andrew Bunyan and now Mr Dunkley.

The only permanent post-holder in that time, Michael Rosen, resigned in November after a monitoring inspection by Ofsted was critical of the pace of change and strategic planning.

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And opposition councillors said stability was what was needed, not a succession of different people at the helm of a services tasked with looking after Norfolk's children, including the county's most vulnerable youngsters.

County councillor Emma Corlett, Labour's children's services spokeswoman, said: 'We were pretty shocked to learn there was going to be another interim.

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'Like for the children we are corporate parents to, stability is really important and frequent change at the top is detracting from the social work which needs to be done, It risks damaging staff morale.'

And James Wright, leader of the Liberal Democrat group at Norwich City Council, said: 'Norfolk's children deserve better than this seemingly never ending procession of interim staff.'

But County Hall bosses insisted they had the right man for the job. They said he would be in post to see the council through its next Ofsted inspection later this year, but acknowledged the search for a permanent head would continue.

When Mr Bunyan was appointed as interim director, Dr Wendy Thomson said that was 'to provide assurance and leadership whilst we seek a longer-term replacement'.

Today, a council spokeswoman said: 'Matt Dunkley is the longer term appointment that we were seeking to make.

'He has agreed to provide the leadership we require to secure rapid improvements in advance of the next full Ofsted inspection. He will also help us recruit a permanent director, which can take many months of search, advertisement, assessment and notice.'

Mr Bunyan had always made clear he did not want the job full-time and, when asked whether he had been the service's director in title only, the council said: 'Andrew has made a immediate positive impact on the department's improvement, setting direction, ensuring improvements plans are fit for purpose and being delivered, securing additional capacity where necessary. He is present in Norfolk at least three days a week, and is in regular communication by phone and email.'

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