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Calls for emergency meeting about SEND services despite Conservative group ruling one out

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Calls have been made for an emergency meeting of Suffolk's education scrutiny committee to discuss the special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) crisis.

Suffolk County Council last week apologised for letting down families of SEND pupils, after an independent review by Lincolnshire County Council exposed failings in communication and education health and care plans (EHCP) among other service areas, and agreed an improvement plan based on the report's recommendations.

It prompted councillors from the opposition Green, Liberal Democrat and Independent group to call for an emergency meeting of the council's education and children and young people's scrutiny committee to discuss the issue, which is not currently due until December.

Endeavour House in Ipswich
Endeavour House in Ipswich

But the Conservative group has ruled out an earlier meeting as the lead time for producing the necessary reports and evidence coupled with the need to scrutinise progress of the plan meant it was felt that an emergency meeting would not be productive.

Graham Newman, Conservative chairman of the committee, said: "Whilst understanding some of the considerations which have given rise to this request, I have come to the view that there is nothing to be gained by bringing the public meeting forward. In coming to this view, I have consulted a wider range of colleagues and officers.

"We are in the position where a detailed independent review of the service has been undertaken; the senior political and operational management of the council has accepted its findings in full; a plan to deliver the report's recommendations has been developed as a matter of urgency and implementation of that plan has already commenced.

"In my view, scrutiny is required to review the progress of that plan.

"Given the next meeting is less than two-and-a-half months away, the extent to which the action plan will have developed, the time it takes to prepare papers for the meeting, and the publication lead time, I suggest that very little time will be gained by bringing the public meeting forward."

A scoping meeting is set to take place next week for the committee to outline areas of the issue they wish to discuss.

Two meetings are also in the pipeline with parents to make amendments to the action plan.

But opposition councillors have argued that there are issues which need discussing now.

Committee member and education spokeswoman for the Green, Liberal Democrat and Independent group, Caroline Topping, said: "One of the functions of scrutiny is to look at items in a timely manner.

"I believe there is no more a timely manner than now, when a report has been put together and an action plan to address the report is now being implemented.

Cllr Penny Otton
Cllr Penny Otton

"Having read the review and action plan there are issues which need answering now, not in two-and-a-half months time, with more learning time lost for some young people who can't afford more lost time."

Among questions Cllr Topping said needed answering imminently were around EHCPs, how Impower was chosen as strategic partner to implement the action plan, how training for staff will be facilitated in an already-stretched service and placement of children in inappropriate settings.

Cllr Penny Otton from the group, also a committee member, said it was "leading to an increasing loss of confidence in the political leadership of this council".

Work with Impower on the action plan began on Monday last week.

The next meeting of the committee will take place on December 9, with documents published a week beforehand.

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