Croydon Council’s Autism Board failed to hold any meetings during a nine-month period from October last year.
That’s according to a written response from the cabinet member responsible, Jane Avis.
For a council which is struggling to improve its reputation over its care of vulnerable children, following last year’s damning Ofsted inspection of its children’s services, as well as receiving repeatedly critical reports from the Local Government Ombudsman over social care complaints, and for a local authority which has on-going issues over its provision for children and young adults with special educational needs, the failure for the Autism Board to meet appears to be another serious short-coming.
But not according to Croydon Council. They say the failure to hold meetings was “regrettable” and passed the buck by saying it was outside its control due to the absence of unidentified key partners.
The Autism Board is the body which has an overview of the services and facilities available to those with autism living in the borough. It was formed in response to the Autism Act, which includes guidance on how local authorities should best serve those with autism. As the guidance is statutory, local councils and local health bodies have a legal duty to implement it.
Avis’s official response fails to identify who the absent partners might have been, nor to offer any explanation why the meetings could not go ahead in their absence – although the period did coincide with the period when councillors were busy with their political campaigning ahead of May’s local elections.
According to Avis, the Autism Board is scheduled to meet four times a year. Scheduled meetings in January and March 2018 did not take place. “This was out of the hands of the council because unfortunately the key partners were not available to participate in scheduled meetings.
“This interruption to the meeting schedule was regrettable…
“The board meetings, which bring together commissioners, health and social care colleagues, with responsibility for adults and children, service providers in all sectors public, independent, charitable and voluntary and including in education and the criminal justice system are now scheduled for the rest of the financial year.
“I would like to stress that the temporary hiatus…” is there any other kind of hiatus? “…in the schedule of partnership board meetings hasn’t in any way halted or delayed some of the exciting new service developments and the involvement of service users and carers in shaping them.”
So that’s alright then.
The mantle of the council’s “Autism Champion” has since May passed from Andrew Rendle, who was not re-selected to stand as a Labour candidate, to Jerry Fitzpatrick, a former barrister and the new councillor for Addiscombe West.
Parents, carers and service users of the council’s autism services might also be concerned at Avis’s failure to provide any guarantee of longer term arrangements with the National Autism Society and PiP – Parents in Partnership.
The NAS and PiP both have provider contracts with Croydon Council. But asked whether these contracts will continue, Avis’s written answer states: “We can say that we look forward to continuing a fruitful relationship with these organisations.”
It doesn’t take much reading between the lines to foresee spending cuts being blamed for those contracts not being renewed some time in the not-so-distant future.
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