The Education Secretary has appointed a new children's services commissioner to drive up standards in Blackpool in the wake of a damning Ofsted report.
Helen Lincoln and top-rated Essex County Council, where she works as executive director for children, families and education, have been handed the role of commissioner for children's services in Blackpool.
They will be tasked with ensuring "immediate improvement" to children's social care in the resort and ultimately recommending whether Blackpool Council should be allowed to continue running the service.
In January, an Ofsted report found some of Blackpool's most vulnerable children were living in "chronic neglect" and criticised council bosses over a raft of problems that led to the council getting the lowest "inadequate" rating for the second time in six years.
On Monday, almost a month after the commissioner was originally due to have been appointed, the Department for Education published a statutory direction, ordering Blackpool Council to co-operate with the Ms Lincoln and Essex County Council, and "comply with any instructions" they give.
The legal notice adds: "The Secretary of State for Education has carefully considered Ofsted’s report in respect of Blackpool Council (and the) inspection carried out between November 26 and December 7, 2018.
"The inspection report found that the overall effectiveness of children’s social care services is ‘inadequate’.
"The key judgements for the experiences and progress of children who need help and protection and for the impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families are both ‘inadequate’."
Setting out the commissioner's role, it adds: "There is a presumption in cases of persistent or systemic failure that children’s social care services will be removed from local authority control, for a period of time, in order to bring about sustainable improvement, unless there are compelling reasons not to do so."
The commissioner will have to report back to the department by June 28, setting out options that could see children's social care taken out of the council's control - and advising whether that should happen.
Neil Jack, chief executive of Blackpool Council, said: “We look forward to working closely with Helen and her team to show the progress that we have already made since the Ofsted inspection, sharing with them the action plan submitted to Ofsted and demonstrating our capacity to improve.”
A spokesman for Essex County Council said: “We are really pleased to have been asked by the Minister to work alongside political and corporate leaders and staff in Blackpool.
“Essex’s children’s services have been recognised as outstanding by Ofsted and it is this track record of success and considerable experience that Helen Lincoln, our executive director for children, families and education, will bring to the council.
“We are keen to share best practice with Blackpool and work to improve the lives of vulnerable children and families in the borough.”
A Department for Education spokesman said: “We must make sure that vulnerable children and families are kept safe and act quickly to intervene where concerns have been raised about the quality of care.
"Appointing a commissioner for Blackpool’s children’s services will help stabilise and improve the support for the children and families who need our protection.”