Just two years after a council ‘restructuring’ saw Barbara Peacock in charge of a super-directorate including housing, schools and social care, the £170,000 per year exec is leaving Croydon as part of… another ‘restructuring’. KEN LEE reports
Barbara Peacock, Croydon Council’s £170,000 per year “executive director, People”, will be clearing her desk before the end of May, just eight months after Ofsted inspectors declared that the borough’s Children’s Services department left vulnerable children at risk of serious harm.
The news of Peacock’s somewhat hurried departure was released by the council this morning, just a couple of days before the local elections.
Peacock had been appointed to her role by chief executive Jo Negrini just two years ago. Today, the council was denying that Peacock had been fired, but was claiming that the move was as a result of “restructuring”.
Peacock was one of the council’s four most senior employees. When she was appointed in March 2016, it followed another “restructuring” which had scooped together the wide and onerous responsibilities for housing, education and social care all into one super-directorate.
Today’s news is therefore an admission that this previous, costly restructuring has failed, or that Peacock was not up to the job. Or both.
According to the council, Peacock’s role is now to be split between three people.
Peacock, who had previously worked in the borough as a social worker, arrived at the senior post to preside over what appears to be an on-going and rapid decline in standards within the Children’s Services department.
Having been given a “good” rating at the previous Ofsted inspection, by last summer the inspectors found that the council’s provision for some of the borough’s most vulnerable children had “widespread and serious failures”, which “leave some children at risk of significant harm”.
In the immediate aftermath of the Ofsted report finding the council department “inadequate”, the Government appointed a commissioner, Eleanor Brazil, to oversee the improvement efforts. Effectively, Brazil was looking over Peacock’s shoulder.
In Brazil’s first update report, last December, the writing was on the wall for Peacock when the Commissioner noted, “It is clear that the outcome of the inspection was a shock to the leadership of the council.”
Brazil also wrote: “Senior managers have not created good conditions in which social workers can flourish. A number of social workers told inspectors that they are not clear about what they need to do.”
Brazil’s report led to social workers from Camden being brought in to oversee the work of Croydon’s struggling Children Services teams. By January, Peacock had already been shorn of some parts of her directorate’s responsibilities.
Significantly, Brazil submitted her latest quarterly update report last month. It seems unlikely that the timing of Peacock’s departure is merely coincidental.
A council spokeswoman has been quoted today by a falling circulation newspaper based in Guildford as saying that, “The council is currently consulting affected staff on a proposed restructure designed to support our focus on improving children’s services and to build on the success of our health partnership, the One Croydon Alliance, as well as enabling our digital transformation which will significantly improve the way we engage with residents.
“The proposals include the deletion of the executive director for people post and instead establishing separate dedicated senior leadership for children, families and education; health, wellbeing and adults; and a new director for gateway and residents’ services, all reporting directly to the chief executive.
“In light of the proposed changes Barbara Peacock, the current executive director for People, has decided to leave the council at the end of May and we wish her well for the future.”
Neither Jo Negrini nor council leader Tony Newman responded to our invitation to comment on the timing of the announcement or the admission of failure which it represents.
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