3 June 2019
FOR IMMEDIATE USE
Contact: Michael Jones
Tele: 07944 578872
County council’s closure and sale of Beechfield secure children’s home is “a national scandal” Labour councillors say
Labour county councillors in West Sussex have challenged the Tory Cabinet Member’s decision to permanently close and sell off the Beechfield Secure Unit for children site. Significant amounts of public money have recently been spent on the facility which is now set to be shut permanently following only a cursory discussion of its future by Tory councillors at a recent meeting, despite all this investment. In response, Labour have requested that the decision is “called in”, the only mechanism available to the opposition to have the decision formally looked at again.
West Sussex County Council used to run Beechfield, where it provided secure placements for vulnerable young people with highly complex needs, until October 2016 when it was closed after Ofsted first found the home to be inadequate and needed action to be taken before it could be considered for reopening.
- When there is a need to provide these facilities for local children, as provided for under legislation, it is not cheap to buy these services from outside. Since the facility closed, hundreds of thousands of pounds have had to be spent by the council sending West Sussex children elsewhere, who would otherwise been able to be housed at this location, much nearer their families.
- At the height of its success and working at full capacity for all seven spaces, Beechfield was at least paying for itself and avoiding such hefty bills, all revenue which helped cover costs and help reduce financial pressures for other essential council services.
- In the past ten years, nearly two million pounds of public money has been spent on refurbishing Beechfield.
- In the past three years alone, since 2016 over £800,000 has been spent on the facility that is now going to be demolished instead.
- A recent meeting of the council’s Children and Young People’s Select Committee failed to challenge the assertions made in the report and did not appear to be aware of the facts behind the closure of Beechfield. This comes directly after the recent Ofsted inspection report on children’s services criticised the quality of scrutiny at the council.
- Following the call in request by Labour today, the relevant Select Committee’s Business Planning Group must make a decision on whether to accept the call in. If it is, the council must then hold a meeting as soon as possible to examine the issue and hear councillors’ concerns.
Labour Group Leader Councillor Michael Jones (Southgate and Gossops Green) said:
“Poor political leadership and a total failure of foresight by Tory West Sussex County Council has now seen a socially important facility first neglected and now abandoned.
“This is a council suffering financial problems, but this has undoubtedly been exacerbated by the poor leadership and financial decisions which have seen errors occur like with Beechfield on an all too frequent basis. The apparent abandonment of Beechfield by West Sussex is in my view a national scandal, on top of the already appalling situation with children’s services failing its Ofsted report.
“I am sure that this site on the Sussex and Surrey border is probably prime commuter belt and would be a ‘nice little earner’ for the council if they just flogged it off to a developer for high value housing. But where is the thought around the social value and need for this facility?
“The Cabinet Member is meant to be conscious of these things, not behave like Arthur Daley looking for a windfall for the council.”
Labour county councillor Brian Quinn (Broadfield), who is one of the five councillors supporting the call in request, agreed with Cllr Jones, adding:
“I am genuinely astonished at the inept use of a valuable facility which at full capacity was virtually paying for itself and the county council did not have to send its children out of the area to provide for their needs. There is a national shortage of places for this, yet the county council just appears to be shrugging this off as ‘not their problem’.
“Also, despite being told by Ofsted they needed to consider this more, there is no sign in this decision of the decision makers listening to the voice of the child in the services provided to them. How will they be feeling when they are sent out of county, far away from their families? This seems like an ill-considered move. They should rethink this.”
Notes to editors:.
- For more information please contact Michael Jones on 07944 578872 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
- The report on Beechfield and the Cabinet Member’s decision on it can be found at the following link: https://westsussex.moderngov.co.uk/ieDecisionDetails.aspx?ID=606
- The wording of the Labour Group’s call in request, supported by all five members, is reproduced below:
Relinquishment of the Beechfield Secure Unit CYP01 (19/20)
CALL IN REQUEST BY MICHAEL JONES, LEADER OF THE LABOUR GROUP
I am very concerned about the Cabinet Member decision to close the Beechfield Secure Unit and to dispose of the asset. While this matter has been to the Select Committee, it was considered late in the day with a reduced member attendance. It was only briefly discussed and should get more detailed scrutiny as this is a significant change in policy. In particular:
• Members have been told for some years that the Beechfield Secure Unit was a source of income for the County Council. The report states that with other costs, the Unit only just met its costs. This is a significant change in explanation that should be scrutinised.
• The report states that the Unit is now deemed to be not fit for purpose, even though £800,000 of DfE money was invested in it only recently, and nearly £2 million has been spent in total on refurbishing it over the past decade. This appears to be another significant change in explanation and scrutiny should be made of the financial implications of this.
• The report also states that few placements have been needed by the County Council, but more detail should be available to members about how the Council is ensuring that its young people are receiving adequate and appropriate support.
• The County Council has come into criticism from Ofsted over its provision of children’s services and in its inspection report one of those criticisms was that the child’s voice was not being heard or sufficiently taken into account during the decision making process relating to the services provided to them. This is a significant omission that has once again happened in this instance, and scrutiny should have the opportunity to hear from service users and former service users about their experiences, and also their feelings about potentially being taken far away from the county to another part of the country, and what that feels like for them and their families.
As the unit has been closed since 2016, a delay in the decision-making process shouldn’t significantly damage the interests of the County Council.
The following members agree to the call-in: