One of my most memorable experiences as Leader of Telford & Wrekin Council happened just a few weeks ago.
I stood in a room full of officers working in children’s social care to tell them the fantastic news that, following our Ofsted inspection in January, we had been assessed as an ‘outstanding’ local authority.
The response from our wonderful officers who deliver the service with such passion and professionalism was amazing – a real sense of emotion and collective pride. It was an official acknowledgement that we are recognised for making a positive impact on our children’s lives and that, in Ofsted’s own words, “our children are cared for and they are cared about”.
Looking after children is the most important thing we do as a council. It’s an absolute priority for me and my cabinet and the reason many of us got involved in politics in the first place. And it’s fair to say we’ve been on a journey over the past few years. In 2016, Ofsted said we ‘required improvement’. Now, it says we’re ‘outstanding’. There’s only one other authority that has made that leap and I’m sure they would agree, it doesn’t happen by chance.
That ‘requires improvement’ rating certainly helped to focus our minds. In my heart, I knew we were better than that. It was time for a different approach.
“Our children are cared for and they are cared about”
Despite our government funding dropping by nearly 50 per cent, we made a conscious decision to invest an extra 53 per cent in our children’s services. So the £7.5 million additional income generated since 2013 through growth in business rates and council tax, our investment in our wholly owned letting company Nuplace – that’s delivered £3.2 million of income since 2015/16 – and the £200,000 profits every year from our solar farm are absolutely critical to ensuring we can invest in our children’s services properly, to make them the best that they can be.
That financial commitment has been backed by our recruitment of brilliant officers, who, Ofsted noted, we truly value and support. Our workforce development, recruitment and retention are particularly strong, and that means we have a positive culture where our social workers can practise safely and effectively.
I’m delighted that Ofsted’s report also highlights that councillors, officers and partners work well together and recognises our clear and ambitious vision for children’s services. This is a team effort and a priority not only for the council but the borough as a whole.
The rating is important, not just for the plaudits, but because it means our children, young people and their families can be confident that their safety, wellbeing and life chances are as good as they can be. They are valued because we care deeply about their future.
As Leader, l will continue to be ambitious and to invest in our children’s social care services. We continue working hard to improve outcomes for our vulnerable children and young people and their families. This includes our work on criminal exploitation and reducing exclusion by ensuring our schools continue to be welcoming and places of belonging.
In Telford & Wrekin, we protect, care and invest in our children. And that’s what has helped us become one of only 15 local authorities to have achieved an ‘outstanding’ from Ofsted. We couldn’t be more proud.