As a borough we are Ambitious for our Children. Working with local partners in Sutton, together we want to provide them with the best chances to achieve their best outcomes in life, whatever their starting point, and to prepare them effectively for adulthood.
Indicative timing: 30 minutes
Sharon Scott, Independent Expert and Fiona Phelps, Assistant Director Education & SEND presented the report.
In discussion members noted partners were committed to making improvement.
The Strategic Director provided information about the networks and organisations which provide learning and information sharing to the Council in this area which enabled Cognus and the Council to learn from good practice elsewhere.
The Interim Assistant Director, Customers, Commissioning and Governance explained there was a robust performance management framework in place for the contract between the Council and Cognus for the services provided by Cognus for the Council, which was ongoing and would continue.
Members heard the rationale for recommending that option 3 of the Independent Expert’s report be progressed. The Independent Expert was clear about the importance of closer working between the Council and Cognus. The recommended option would allow more alignment between the Council’s strategic priorities and Cognus, which would enable the local authority to provide increased direction to Cognus and closer working. This option with the changes of governance would support improvement and would address the perception that Cognus had moved away from the Council’s ambitions and plans. Concerns were raised that the recommended change of arrangement to the company would alter the control the Council had over the company rather than address changes in outcomes. The costs and procedure of bringing the service back fully in house were also discussed. Members heard that option 3 would generate less disruption to the systems in place, services provided and to staff than bringing the services in house and could therefore be implemented more quickly and at lower cost.
Some Members suggested a lack of inclusion of consultation with partners was shown in the report. Officers clarified that the recommendation before the committee was to consider whether steps should be taken for Cognus to become wholly owned by the Council and the committee’s decision was the starting point and that the further steps required to implement the change would follow. The Independent Expert explained she had held discussions with shareholders, the Chair of the Board and other Board members. The Assistant Director Education & SEN confirmed that there had been discussions between officers and all B shareholders, plus primary and secondary head teachers and Cognus and its board. There were now new ways in which the Council, Cognus, schools and other providers were working together through the Sutton Education Partnership, and for example the High Needs Block review.
Sarah Wills - Legal representative- confirmed that as Cognus is a limited company, it is legally a separate entity to the Council. It was noted that at present the Council owns 75% of the shares in Cognus and the remaining 25% of shares are owned by Sutton schools and colleges as B shareholders. It was explained that the proposal was that the B shareholders should be asked to resign their shares, so that the Council became the sole shareholder. Members considered the possibility that B shareholders would not wish to sell their shares. Officers clarified informal discussions and presentations at Heads’ Forums had indicated that schools understood the rationale and were in agreement.
The Strategic Director confirmed that the Committee would receive an update at its next meeting and that there would be a report on Cognus to the Sutton Shareholders Board in March.
For recommendation 2, Councillors Tim Crowley, Lily Bande, Jane Pascoe and Tom Drummond abstained from the vote with the reason that there had been insufficient due diligence on the proposal included in the report and that they would consider requisitioning the decision to proceed with the recommendation to take action to change the status of Cognus. Andrew Theobald and Rev’d Kevin Lewis also abstained from the vote.
1. The report and findings of the Independent Expert be noted.
2. The necessary action to change the status of Cognus to a wholly owned local authority trading company for the financial year 2020/21 be taken.