While Wandsworth Council re-arranged the deckchairs, they failed to spot the iceberg

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Councillor Peter Carpenter speech to Wandsworth Council, January 27, 2016

An Ofsted report has found “weaknesses” in Wandsworth’s children’s services. At a special council meeting councillors were asked to approve £500,000 to re-shuffle top-tier managers in the department, without seeing the Ofsted report  

I have over 40 years experience in managing businesses. In that time I have worked in organisations which are vertically integrated, horizontally integrated, matrix managed and any number of variants.

In that time I have found that while management structures can help you or hinder you in achieving your goals, whether you achieve them depends more on whether you have the right strategy and the will to implement it.

It is in this spirit that I look at the proposed joint staffing arrangement with Richmond Council. Before we embarked on the arrangement with Richmond, we had created two mega Directorates in Wandsworth: Housing and Community Services, and Education and Social Services.

The initial proposals for joint working with Richmond divorced Housing from Community Services. Today we consider a proposal to divorce Education and Children’s Services from Adult Social Services, as a result of criticisms in a forthcoming Ofsted report. It would be nice if someone would admit that creating these two mega Directorates in the first place was perhaps a mistake.

Let me make it clear that I am not opposed to joint working with Richmond in principle. It’s not the most natural partner for Wandsworth – and being much smaller, it is likely to benefit most from the scale economies created by joint working. While Richmond and Wandsworth will be 50% bigger than Wandsworth, it will be nearly three times the size of Richmond.

It is therefore clear to me that the proposed joint working between Richmond and Wandsworth is, as far as Wandsworth is concerned, only a step on a journey, not the end of the journey. With that in mind, we need to develop managerial structures which are capable of expanding to embrace the addition of other functions from other Boroughs, or indeed, whole Boroughs.

I am concerned that the structures being developed between Wandsworth and Richmond are too hard wired, and lack the flexibility to be reconfigured to accommodate the addition of other partners. Were we to find such a partner, we wold not want to spend another two years in a major reorganisation to accommodate them.

As we have found, reorganisations take up a lot of management capacity, and over the past years we have lost a lot of our senior management capacity as first Wandsworth departments were merged and then a joint management structure was developed with Richmond. It must be a priority of the new organisation to bring in new blood to refresh its management capacity.

While management is busy rearranging the deckchairs on the deck of the Titanic, they can lose sight of the fact that the ship has hit an iceberg.

That is what seems to have happened in the case of Education and Children’s Services. Officers were so busy working on rearranging the deckchairs, that they lost sight of their day job of steering the ship away from the icebergs.

Let me make it clear that I don’t blame the officers for this. The joint working with Richmond was clearly a political initiative. It was the politicians who failed to give the officers the tools they required to successfully carry out the job. And it is the political leadership that must take the blame.

Once the Ofsted report is published, those responsible should consider their positions.

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