Our Sutton investigations editor, CARL SHILTON, on an inevitable development in the council’s struggles over its special educational needs services
Tracey Burley has been sacked as the managing director of Cognus, the Sutton Council spin-off company which is responsible for delivering services to children, teens and young adults in the borough with SEND, special educational needs and disabilities.
A “golden goodbye”, estimated to be £100,000, equivalent to a year’s salary, and non-disclosure agreements should follow, with the council and Cognus expected to make a formal announcement this morning.
The decision was confirmed in documents lodged in the public domain at Companies House on Friday, somewhat inconveniently for council leader Ruth Dombey and her colleagues, who believed that they might be able to manage the message over this latest episode in the shambles that is the borough’s SEND service.
As Inside Sutton was reporting last month, the mounting criticisms around the failures of Sutton’s statutory SEND services, following a failed Ofsted inspection last year, persuaded the Liberal Democrat leadership of the council to determine that they needed to appear to be doing something decisive. Sacking a member of staff and getting the public to pick up the tab appears to be the best they have come up with.
Notably, none of Dombey’s politicians have paid with their jobs for on-going problems with SEND services provided through their majority-owned Cognus.
The writing was on the wall for senior Cognus figures last month when no one from the company was present for a council people committee, where their handling of SEND services were among the leading items on the agenda.
Marian James, the borderline incompetent LibDem councillor who chairs the committee, misled the meeting on July 4 with her explanation for the absence of Burley or any senior Cognus executive – somewhat conveniently for James, the council’s recording of that meeting has gone missing from the Sutton website.
James has since admitted at a full council meeting that Cognus were told not to attend her committee, effectively contradicting what she had told the public less than a fortnight earlier.
Senior council director Nick Ireland was parachuted in as a director of Cognus on July 17, and may take over Burley’s responsibilities with immediate effect.
Given that while at Cognus, Burley will have only been implementing the LibDem-led council’s policies and instructions, her departure would appear to be a particularly shabby attempt at deflection by Dombey & Co, and a particularly expensive one for the public purse.
Following the Ofsted report last year and the council’s own internal report into its SEND services, a campaign group has been formed in Sutton demanding that all those children, teens and young adults who have been denied proper EHCPs – Education and Health Care Plan – should be provided with another opportunity to access the services to which, legally, they are entitled. Around 700 families are estimated to have been affected by Cognus’s apparent reluctance to spend public money to provide the services it is intended for.
The families’ action group has been crowd-funding to pay for a possible High Court challenge to Sutton’s failure to provide adequate services for those affected by SEND.
And they are very suspicious of the use of an (albeit very well compensated) executive scapegoat to deflect and detract from the failings of Cognus and the council.
This morning, Hayley Harding of the Sutton EHCP Crisis Group, told Inside Sutton, “While we welcome all efforts to improve the SEND services in Sutton, we do not want changes in leadership to detract from the main issue of children continuing to be assessed for EHCPs with criteria over and above the law.
“Until the 700 families in Sutton receive the written apology and a full commitment to reform the current process that they rightfully deserve we are not stopping this campaign and the related legal action.”
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