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MPs' vote of no confidence in leadership at Norfolk County Council children's services

PUBLISHED: 22:20 14 June 2013 | UPDATED: 22:20 14 June 2013

Lisa Christensen, director of children's services at Norfolk County Council. Photo by Simon Finlay.

Lisa Christensen, director of children's services at Norfolk County Council. Photo by Simon Finlay.

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The boss of Norfolk County Council's under-fire children's services has come under renewed pressure to stand down today after a vote of no confidence from all nine of the county's MPs.

Calls have been made for a change of leadership at the department in the wake of a damning Ofsted report into child protection services.

Following a meeting with children’s minister Ed Timpson this week the MPs have issued a joint statement calling for an interim board to be appointed immediately.

It will pile more pressure on the department’s director Lisa Christensen who has so far refused to resign in the wake of the watchdog inspection which found the service to be “inadequate”.

The cross-party release said: “The situation at children’s services is so serious that we think an interim board should take over immediately. There is a lack of leadership as demonstrated by a recent Ofsted report into the protection of children. “This is too serious for a graduated approach. Action needs to be taken now to ensure that there is strong and capable management at Norfolk children’s services.”

Ms Christensen recently met MPs at a County Hall following the report. In an EDP interview last month she insisted that some improvements had been made and that she had taken on board concerns about inconsistency within the service.

But she refused to accept that things had “gone wrong” at the county council, saying: “We are not a failing department, although we have got some very significant issues we need to sort out.”

“I could say ‘I think I have failed totally and I should go’ but I’m afraid that’s not my feeling,” she added.

Following a meeting with the Norfolk MPs this week Mr Timspon said: “I am extremely concerned that the arrangements for the protection of children in Norfolk have been judged to be inadequate.

“I take any failure to provide an adequate children’s service very seriously and will urgently consider the most appropriate course of action to ensure plans for improvement are robust and rapid.”

Ms Christensen’s department has also been facing questions about its running of Norfolk schools.

In March, Ofsted undertook a blitz of school inspections in the county, with 28 primaries and secondaries visited in just one week, which found three out of every five schools assessed were not providing a good enough education to youngsters.

Raising “considerable concern” over its findings, Ofsted accused the county council of failing to step in quickly enough when schools were known to be struggling.

Norfolk has become the first local authority in the country to be targeted by inspectors examining how the local authority supports school improvement.

A recent report to Norfolk County Council’s scrutiny panel outlined a new programme which has been introduced to “accelerate the pace of educational improvement in Norfolk” and provide every child a place in a good school.

Miss Christensen was not available for comment, but George Nobbs, the Labour leader of Norfolk County Council, said: “The new administration at County Hall shares the concern expressed today by Norfolk’s MPs.

“Indeed, I am amazed that it has taken four months for them to reach their conclusion. I expressed my own concern at the time but the then Tory administration at County Hall didn’t seem too bothered.

“I’m also surprised that the MPs waited until over a week after the recent council election before meeting children’s services chiefs at County Hall. A cynic might wonder if the change of control from a Tory administration woke them up.

“Rest assured, this new administration needs no lessons about improving services for children from the party that has constantly failed them for the last 12 years.

“We are much more interested in fixing the problem than party political grandstanding.”

And Anne Gibson, acting managing director of Norfolk County Council, added: “Just like Norfolk’s MPs, we want Norfolk’s vulnerable children to get the best services possible and all Norfolk children to have a good education.

“The new council’s leader and cabinet have made improvements their top priority and have already allocated two of their eight cabinet posts to cover children’s services matters and give a much sharper focus on improving services for vulnerable children and education.

“Ofsted has recently highlighted specific improvements necessary in our safeguarding services. We have got a clear improvement plan in place, as Ofsted knows, an independent chairman is overseeing the improvement board and everyone is working hard on the changes that need to be made.

“Clearly there is more to be done and, of course, we will welcome more help from the government if that is what’s on offer.

“The County Council can’t achieve the improvements needed on its own; as Ofsted recognises - it needs concerted action from a whole range of agencies and, of course, the active involvement of parents too.

“But we will not shirk our responsibilities for leading this agenda and my job is to ensure that happens effectively.”

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