A Labour councillor has raised concerns over the length of time it has taken to update a council scrutiny panel regarding changes to children’s services.
St Helens Council is currently embarking on an overhaul of children’s services following a damning Ofsted focused visit last summer.
Coun Richard McCauley, chairman of audit and financial monitoring overview and scrutiny panel, told the audit and governance committee this week that there have been a number of “concerns” relating to recent internal audit reports regarding children’s services.
The concerns related to the time it took in some instances to get a response or update from the relevant department.
Coun McCauley told the Local Democracy Reporting Service he also had concerns that the appropriate level of importance given to the internal audit and scrutiny process may not have been “appropriated” in some circumstances.
“I recognise the department is going through change and measures and things are being put in place to make necessary improvement, and we welcome this,” Coun McCauley told the audit and governance committee.
“However, I do not accept the view, suggestion that audit reports are deferred from coming to the panel due to other purposes within the department. I believe that scrutiny is just as important.
“Audit and scrutiny is a statutory duty and I feel that other priorities should not prevent us from what we do best and that is giving this panel the additional assurance it needs.
“The panel has a legitimate role in proving assistance with good governance, which I believe is essential within a local authority setting.
“Various regulators such as Ofsted insist on thorough scrutiny and challenge and as members, we want to make sure we effectively fulfil our role.”
Coun Joe Pearson, cabinet member for developing young people, said the council’s scrutiny function is “very important”.
He added that there are “exceptional circumstances” when officers cannot attend scrutiny meetings due to operational reasons related to safeguarding.
Council leader Derek Long said scrutiny is a “key function of this council”.
The Labour leader said there is a “backlog of issues” relating to children’s services, adding that some of the issues date back to around eight years.
Coun Long, chairman of the audit and governance committee, said: “I think the key thing is that we’re actually making progress.
“And we as a council need to be assured that that progress is made and sticks.
“And one of my commitments from the start is, this is a sustainable change that we’re bringing into children’s services, and that will take several years.
“I think we’ve always been clear about that.”