West Sussex County Council leader Louise Goldsmith has survived a call for a vote of no confidence in her abilities.
The call was made by Lib Dem leader Dr James Walsh after an horrific Ofsted report into the county’s children’s services, which were rated inadequate.
The call, which was part of an amendment to a notice of motion by Labour’s Michael Jones, was supported by a number of Tory councillors during a meeting at County Hall – with others choosing to abstain.
Calling Ofsted’s findings ‘a shocking indictment’ and ‘a damning report’, Dr Walsh said: “There are many references in the report to leadership failure at all levels and it’s been a long-standing and growing problem.
“It’s at least ten years and probably longer and it’s affecting at least a whole generation of children who could end up being scarred for life and affecting their life chances.”
Dr Walsh was one of several members who were sorry to hear that Michael Cloake had chosen to resign as chairman of the children and young people’s services select committee.
He added: “It’s wrong that he should take a major part of the responsibility.
“The responsibility lies firmly at the top of this council and it’s quite clear from reading the report on that.”
There was applause for Tory councillor Andrew Baldwin, who suggested that he and others had been removed from scrutiny committees because they were ‘not nodding donkeys and not afraid to ask questions’.
Adding that he was ‘ashamed, angry and embarrassed’ by Ofsted’s report, Mr Baldwin said he had no confidence in Mrs Goldsmith and that it was time for someone else to take over.
Others felt it was not the right time for a change of leadership.
After listening to the debate for more than an hour, a tearful and choked Mrs Goldsmith said: “Since the report, every night has been difficult for me – every night laying in bed going through it.
“Of course, I’ve looked, examined and tried to understand and if anybody thinks this is easy, they’re very, very much mistaken.
“I care very deeply about the children so this hits me more than you can imagine.”
She made no comment about the calls for her to resign, instead telling the meeting about what had been and was being done to try to bring the service up to scratch.
Mrs Goldsmith added: “Currently we’ve got 727 children in care. I personally apologise to each and every one of them.
“I personally give my commitment we will ensure that the experience that they have will improve.”
The call was defeated by 38 votes to 18, with 5 abstentions.