Agenda and minutes

Venue: Virtual Meeting

Contact: Wendy Simpson 01392 384383  Email:

Note: To be conducted in line with the Local Authorities and Police and Crime Panels (Coronavirus) (Flexibility of Local Authority and Police and Crime Panel Meetings) (England and Wales) Regulations 2020. To see the live stream, please copy and paste this link into your browser: 


Note No. Item




Minutes of the previous meeting held on 8 September 2020, attached.

Additional documents:


RESOLVED that the Minutes of the meeting held on 8 September 2020 be signed as a correct record.



Items Requiring Urgent Attention

Items which in the opinion of the Chair should be considered at the meeting as matters of urgency.

Additional documents:


There was no matter raised as a matter of urgency.



Public Participation

Members of the public may make representations/presentations on any substantive matter listed in the published agenda for this meeting, as set out hereunder, relating to a specific matter or an examination of services or facilities provided or to be provided.

Additional documents:


There were no oral representations from members of the public.




Additional documents:


The Chair welcomed Mrs Saltmarsh to the meeting who was attending in her capacity as a Co-opted Member of the Council’s Standards Committee to observe and monitor compliance with the Council’s ethical governance framework



Scrutiny Committee Work Programme

In accordance with previous practice, Scrutiny Committees are requested to review the list of forthcoming business and determine which items are to be included in the Work Programme.


The Committee may also wish to review the content of the Cabinet Forward Plan and the Children’s Services Risk Register to see if there are any specific items therein it might wish to explore further.


Additional documents:


The Committee were updated as to the Scrutiny Work Programme and it was agreed that an update and review on the Sufficiency Strategy would be added as future items.



In-year Budget Position pdf icon PDF 227 KB

Report of the Chief Officer for Children’s Services (CS/20/12), attached.

Additional documents:


(Councillor McInnes and Hall attended in accordance with Standing Order 25(1) and spoke to this item at the invitation of the Committee)


The Committee received the In-Year Budget Briefing Report of the Chief Officer for Children’s Services (CS/20/12) outlining those areas of specific pressures on the budget and on action being taken to address this.  The Report highlighted that as of September 2020, the forecast position for Children’s Services, including Public Health Nursing (PHN), was an overspend of £30.9m which included a funding shortfall for the Dedicated Schools Grant of £27.8m. The greatest cost pressures related to more children coming into care, placement mix and the SEND High Needs Block.  


The Report noted that the budget for the Service had been increased year on year, partly in response to the growth in demand/unit costs and partly to enable important developments, and due to the outcome of the OFSTED Inspection in March 2020, the Council had allocated a further £2.2m in 2020/21. 


Scrutiny Members had been examining the recruitment and retention of social workers; was recommending action to make the Council more competitive with neighbouring authorities; looking to reduce the current dependency on agency staff and build a permanent workforce which was both cost effective and would deliver improved service quality and improved outcomes for children.


At the time of writing, the High Needs Block of the Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG) was projecting a cumulative funding gap for the end of the financial year of £47.7m.  The Council (and Government) recognised the national context of rapidly escalating demand and a legal framework that increased demand without the corresponding investment.  As per DfE Guidance, the Council has held the SEND funding gap on the balance sheet rather than showing it as an overspend in recognition that the DSG was not part of the

Council’s revenue budget.  A draft Statutory Instrument suggested that the deficit would be held until April 2023 within the balance sheet separate to the Local Authority’s budget, which was also designed to allow national and local government time to tackle and resolve the fundamental drivers of SEND demand.


Children’s Social Care had also seen a sustained increase in the number of children in care, building on increases in 2019/20.  There were three main reasons for the increase:


  • Improvement work had driven a firmer and more timely practice response in neglect cases, eliminating the drift identified by Ofsted in ILACS 2020;
  • COVID lockdown had increased pressure on families and reduced their resilience particularly where adult mental health was a factor; and,
  • Courts during COVID had delayed hearings, including final hearings, leading to a delay in those children exiting care through Adoption, Special Guardianship or other family-based outcomes.   

The increase in the number of children in care coupled with placement mix (the balance of children in higher, medium and lower cost provision) accounted for most of the reported pressure in the in-year budget.


The Public Health Nursing Service (PHN) was in-sourced in 2019, and last year the Council supplemented the Public  ...  view the full minutes text for item 191.



Improvement Plan - Post Ofsted Improvements to Children's Services pdf icon PDF 324 KB

Report of the Improvement Director and Independent Chair of the Improvement Partnership (CS/20/13), attached.


Additional documents:


The Committee received the Report of the Independent Chair of the Improvement Partnership and the Improvement Director (CS/20/13) updating Members on the response to the Inspection of Local Authority Children’s Services (ILACS) undertaken in January 2020 where the Council was judged to be inadequate. 


As part of the inspection, Ofsted found that senior leaders did not know about the extent of the failures to protect some of the most vulnerable children and young people from harm.  Overall Ofsted identified eight areas for improvement, including the concerns about care leavers, and the Council immediately prioritised a response to ensure that children and young people were safe and that concerns identified by Ofsted were addressed.


Due to COVID-19, the publication of the Inspection Report had been delayed from March and as a result, the approach to improvement had taken two key phases to date:


·       Phase 1 (April – July): an approach to improvement which was focused on addressing the context of the pandemic, ensuring vulnerable children, young people and their families were safe and supported appropriately and addressing the priority areas for improvement. During this phase the governance of improvement sat with the Devon Children and Families Partnership Executive.


·       Phase 2 (July – November); a more comprehensive improvement plan was developed covering all the deficits identified in the ILACS and included the CV-19 response post lockdown. During this phase the governance of improvement became the responsibility of the Improvement Partnership, comprised of elected members, senior council officers, senior representatives of statutory partners (health, police and schools), the DfE and a representative from Cornwall Council.


The Report highlighted progress made around the eight priority areas identified by OFSTED which were:


·       Services to care leavers;

·       The quality of social work practice, to assess, support and protect children who experience neglect, and the effective use of pre-proceedings;

·       The effectiveness of child protection conference chairs in responding to escalating risks and identifying when progress is not being made for children;

·       Consideration of child protection medicals when children disclose physical abuse or present with injuries;

  • Permanence planning for children; 

·       The quality and timeliness of life-story work;

·       The assessment of children looked after placed with parents; and,

·       Strategic oversight and grip on areas for improvement and oversight of senior leaders, including case audits and supervision.


Members discussion points included:


·       The additional challenge of an OFSTED Inadequate judgement given to the Council at same time as responding to the COVID-19 pandemic had caused additional pressures which other council’s did not face;

·       An over dependency on agency workers and the need to develop a stable and able workforce;

·       How to engage with young people when many parts of the county no longer had a youth service;

·       how Scrutiny Members could have confidence in the oversight of information presented to them and how this could be improved to ensure the failings identified did not occur again;

·       Members discussed that questions had been raised previously around care leavers accommodation and were reassured at the time about the position of care leavers;  ...  view the full minutes text for item 192.



Edge of Care Services pdf icon PDF 306 KB

Report of the Chief Officer for Children’s Services (CS/20/14), attached.

Additional documents:


The Committee received the Report of the Chief Officer for Children’s Services (CS/20/14) updating Members on the implementation of the new Edge of Care service in Devon.


Proposals to develop an Edge of Care Service formed part of a response to concerns about the high numbers of adolescents entering care in crisis as a result of adolescent neglect or acute family stress, the high and increasing cost of services to children entering care as adolescents and the poor outcomes in some cases. 


The Report outlined proposed updates to the 2019 Model due to significant developments and improvements in strengthening the relationship and ways of working with police colleagues; notably the joint work being delivered through the Adolescent Safety Framework (ASF) and co-designed Exploitation Strategy. Also, significant investments had been made in developing Early Help support and the commissioning of various health services through Children and Family Health Devon since the original model proposals were agreed, and further consideration was now being given to the appropriateness of some specific roles. 


In responding to questions from Members, the Acting Head of Children’s Social Care advised that the Council had invested significantly in Domestic Violence services and had been aware that demand on services drastically increased during the first lockdown in April. The current lockdown during November felt different to April and Children’s Services were working as normal and able to continue meeting children face to face – at this time there the Service had not seen an increase in demand, however there was sometimes a 2-3 week delay. Economically this was a very challenging time for families.


It was MOVED by Councillor Inch, SECONDED by Councillor Hosking and


RESOLVED that the proposed service model revisions as set out in section 3.12 against the model agreed by Cabinet members previously in April 2019 be approved and the current progress made with implementing the Edge of Care Service be noted and endorsed, and that a future report would be brought to the Committee outlining the progress and early outcomes of the service.




Support for Families during Pandemic pdf icon PDF 687 KB

Report of the Chief Officer for Children’s Services (CS/20/16), attached.

Additional documents:


The Committee considered the Report of the Chief Officer for Children’s Services (CS/20/16) around the Council’s response to vulnerable children in different phases of the Coronavirus pandemic, including the response now and data on Free School Meals (FSM) which showed a very significant rise in demand.  Recent national debates about FSM had prompted Members to seek clarification about the Council’s response.


During the first lockdown, the role of schools changed to supporting vulnerable children and the children of key workers, with the vast majority of children receiving their education at home.  For the May half term and the summer holidays the DfE agreed that schools could continue to provide meals for entitled children.  They met this requirement through a variety of routes, including the national voucher system, food parcels that families could collect or purchased gift vouchers for local stores.


As a Devon large rural county, the Council believed that local solutions were needed to ensure that during lockdown the most vulnerable people in Devon, including children and families, did not go hungry.  To ensure support was available the Council allocated £1 million to a shared hardship fund, which was shared between districts along with a further £700,000 received from the government.  The County Council was holding a further £100,000 in reserve for additional hardship funding over the winter.


The Report advised that before the pandemic the percentage of pupils eligible for and claiming FSM was rising in Devon and nationally; however, it was still   significantly below that seen nationally.


COVID-19 had resulted in a significant impact of the number of families that had registered free school meals. The table below showed the increase in claims since March.


Authorised Claims













Members were informed that based on the October 2020 school census there were now 13,830 pupils claiming FSM in Devon.  This figure could still rise as the census was not yet closed. At £3 per meal, it would cost about £41,940 per day to provide a meal to these children.


Families entitled to FSM, whose children would otherwise go hungry, have been encouraged to contact their District Council in order to access hardship assistance during the school holidays.   The Council would write to the Government to clarify that, due to the financial position, the Council were limited in our ability to provide financial support for families beyond the Spring and to request that they properly fund support for all vulnerable people in Devon affected by the financial impacts of the pandemic.

Since this Report was written, the Head of Education and Learning updated Members that Government had announced additional funding and support for families which included:


·       £170m Covid Winter Grant Scheme to support children and families over winter;

·       holiday activities and food programme to be expanded covering Winter 2021;

·       Councils would distribute the funds rather than schools as they were best placed to directly help the hardest hit families and individuals as well as provide food for children who  ...  view the full minutes text for item 194.



Education and Inclusion Services pdf icon PDF 203 KB

Report of the Head of Education & Learning and Deputy Chief Officer for Children’s Services (CS/20/15), attached.

Additional documents:


The Committee received a report from the Head of Education and Learning (CS/20/15) on the future provision of Education and Inclusion Services in Devon.


In 2012, the Council commissioned out its statutory Learner Support Services   to a joint venture with a private sector partner and Babcock Training Ltd (now Babcock Educational Holdings Ltd). A new partnership, Babcock Learning Development Partnership LLP (Limited Liability Partnership Joint Venture), was created, in which Devon County Council retained 19.9% ownership.  The service level contract put in place with Babcock LDP was for a maximum of ten years (seven years plus three) and expired on 31st March 2022.  The total value of the contract for 2019/20 was £8.8 million pounds.


The Council had been undertaking work on the future service design and the delivery model options for Learner Services in accordance with a commissioning timetable which allowed for any tender process or transfer of service required and a mobilisation period.


The pandemic incident management response required between March and July 2020 had a significant impact on the progress of the work to determine the future delivery model for Learner Services and it became clear that it would not be possible to meet the stringent consultation and competition rules set out in the Public Contracts Regulations 2015 legislation within the timescales needed.  In August 2020, the Council’s Cabinet approved an extension to the existing contract which would continue for a period of up to 12 months, to 31st March 2023.


Consultation had now been carried out with schools and a public consultation on the options being considered was also being prepared. Scrutiny members would be provided with a copy of the public consultation before it was launched.  This public consultation would outline the options identified as the most beneficial along with the evidence base and rationale for this assessment.  A full business case would then be written to include additional cost modelling and analysis of the rationale for the option being recommended, including the cost of implementation in terms of work from other teams within the council.


The council would be consulting on views about bringing in all 3 services directly delivered by the Council, these were:


·       Educational Psychology

·       Early years support

·       Children missing education


The full business case for the final recommendations being made would be taken to Devon Education Forum (schools forum), LG8, Cabinet Leadership and Cabinet for final discussion and agreement.


Members raised the possibility of further work and scrutiny on the recommissioning of Babcock Services in order to better understand what was provided by Babcock and how bringing inhouse three of the main services would affect the contract.  The Head of Education and learning explained that there were 66 elements of statutory delivery that were included within Babcock services, and the recommissioning focussed more on how the service was delivered rather than what was delivered. 


It was MOVED by Councillor Hosking, SECONDED by Councillor Hannaford and


RESOLVED that a more detailed session with Members into the recommissioning of the Babcock contract be  ...  view the full minutes text for item 195.



Children's Standing Overview Group pdf icon PDF 265 KB

Notes from the Children’s Standing Overview Group held on 21 July and 6 October 2020, attached.

Additional documents:


The Committee received the notes of the Standing Overview Group.