Labour county councillors in West Sussex have challenged the Tory Cabinet Member’s decision to permanently close and sell off the Beechfield Secure Unit for children site. Significant amounts of public money have recently been spent on the facility which is now set to be shut permanently following only a cursory discussion of its future by Tory councillors at a recent meeting, despite all this investment. In response, Labour have requested that the decision is “called in”, the only mechanism available to the opposition to have the decision formally looked at again.
West Sussex County Council used to run Beechfield, where it provided secure placements for vulnerable young people with highly complex needs, until October 2016 when it was closed after Ofsted first found the home to be inadequate and needed action to be taken before it could be considered for reopening.
- When there is a need to provide these facilities for local children, as provided for under legislation, it is not cheap to buy these services from outside. Since the facility closed, hundreds of thousands of pounds have had to be spent by the council sending West Sussex children elsewhere, who would otherwise been able to be housed at this location, much nearer their families.
- At the height of its success and working at full capacity for all seven spaces, Beechfield was at least paying for itself and avoiding such hefty bills, all revenue which helped cover costs and help reduce financial pressures for other essential council services.
- In the past ten years, nearly two million pounds of public money has been spent on refurbishing Beechfield.
- In the past three years alone, since 2016 over £800,000 has been spent on the facility that is now going to be demolished instead.
- A recent meeting of the council’s Children and Young People’s Select Committee failed to challenge the assertions made in the report and did not appear to be aware of the facts behind the closure of Beechfield. This comes directly after the recent Ofsted inspection report on children’s services criticised the quality of scrutiny at the council.
- Following the call in request by Labour today, the relevant Select Committee’s Business Planning Group must make a decision on whether to accept the call in. If it is, the council must then hold a meeting as soon as possible to examine the issue and hear councillors’ concerns.
Labour Group Leader Councillor Michael Jones (Southgate and Gossops Green) said: “Poor political leadership and a total failure of foresight by Tory West Sussex County Council has now seen a socially important facility first neglected and now abandoned.
“This is a council suffering financial problems, but this has undoubtedly been exacerbated by the poor leadership and financial decisions which have seen errors occur like with Beechfield on an all too frequent basis. The apparent abandonment of Beechfield by West Sussex is in my view a national scandal, on top of the already appalling situation with children’s services failing its Ofsted report.
“I am sure that this site on the Sussex and Surrey border is probably prime commuter belt and would be a ‘nice little earner’ for the council if they just flogged it off to a developer for high value housing. But where is the thought around the social value and need for this facility?
“The Cabinet Member is meant to be conscious of these things, not behave like Arthur Daley looking for a windfall for the council.”
Labour county councillor Brian Quinn (Broadfield), who is one of the five councillors supporting the call in request, agreed with Cllr Jones, adding: “I am genuinely astonished at the inept use of a valuable facility which at full capacity was virtually paying for itself and the county council did not have to send its children out of the area to provide for their needs. There is a national shortage of places for this, yet the county council just appears to be shrugging this off as ‘not their problem’.
“Also, despite being told by Ofsted they needed to consider this more, there is no sign in this decision of the decision makers listening to the voice of the child in the services provided to them. How will they be feeling when they are sent out of county, far away from their families? This seems like an ill-considered move. They should rethink this.”