Council chiefs are defending spending more than £1.8million on consultants to improve special educational needs provision in Suffolk prior to an Ofsted report which found services to be "failing".

The local authority spent a total of £1,843,010.98 on London-based Impower management in 2022 and 2023, according to publicly-available information on Suffolk County Council spending.

This was before a damning Ofsted report into Suffolk's services for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) criticised "widespread and/or systemic failings" in the local area partnership.

However, Suffolk County Council says they "actively sought outside help" to assist them in improving, and Impower was the first recommendation made following a review the council commissioned.

The Ofsted report, published in January this year, led many Suffolk parents to recount a catalogue of failings spanning many years, and described the council's apologies as "a sham".

Campaigners have condemned this as a "jaw dropping waste of public money" that could have instead been spent on meaningful support to Suffolk's children with special educational needs.

A spokesperson for Campaign for Change (Suffolk SEND), a group of parent and carers campaigning for change within the county council’s SEND department, said: "The Ofsted report speaks for itself. This has bought us little or no meaningful improvement. 

"It is a symptom of the leadership malaise in the council. Senior officers and councillors are proud of the time they have invested in days of pointless meetings and glossy PowerPoint slide decks, all while children are still without school places, teaching assistants, speech therapy, occupational therapy, and other statutory services."

East Anglian Daily Times: Suffolk SEND parents that said they been 'let down' by council 'incompetence'.Suffolk SEND parents that said they been 'let down' by council 'incompetence'. (Image: Contributed)

The campaign group is also calling for the resignation of county council chief executive Nicola Beech, saying a senior leadership change is required.

Suffolk County Council has defended this use of public money, saying Impower consultants introduced a range of methods which has helped improve the service, including a new process for Alternative Provision, creating a SEND support team, and training for Suffolk schools to help meet these needs.

The spokesperson said: “Impower has many years of experience in helping councils turn around SEND provision.

“In 2021, we commissioned a team from Lincolnshire, including Lincolnshire County Council and the Lincolnshire SEND parent carer network, to carry out an independent review of SEND services in Suffolk and help us improve.

"The first recommendation made in the report was to employ a strategic partner to help deliver and strengthen reform.

“Impower worked with us until Autumn 2023. Work introduced by Impower continues to make a difference to our service delivery in Suffolk.”

The council also spent £32,000 on consultant Anthony Douglas, who produced a 10-page report into the services last year, the EADT revealed earlier this week.

Three senior Conservative councillors resigned following publication of the Ofsted report and councillor Andrew Reid has been appointed to head up the authority's bid to improve educational services for SEND children.