Steve Darling, leader of Torbay Council, writes for the Torbay Weekly

Over the first year of the partnership that runs Torbay Council the top priority has been achieving a sea change of improvement in children’s services and, therefore, life chances for young people in Torbay.

On Monday last week, our interim chief executive, director of children’s services, cabinet member for children’s services and myself welcomed a number of newly-qualified social workers at the launch of a new in-house Learning Academy.

Its goal is to develop and grow all our social care staff.

There is a shortage of social workers nationally and we want to attract higher quality professionals to Torbay.

The Learning Academy is a game-changing, new investment which ultimately will help us create a culture of high standards and high expectations.

We want to make it a regional and national centre of excellence that will help create innovation in the sector in conjunction with universities and other national bodies.

Another improvement to our services for children is through Family Group Conferences to support family decision making at the earliest opportunity, meaning children, young people and their parents will get to play a full part in deciding what support services they receive.

These conferences are part of a technique called ‘restorative practice’ which aims to build, strengthen and repair relationships between children and their families, help them become better equipped to solve their differences and address challenges.

All our social workers are being trained in this method and are really embracing this new way of working.

We hope to embed a new children’s social work philosophy on every level to make the whole of Torbay a family-friendly area in which to live, work and bring up children.

On Tuesday last week there was an all-party parliamentary group meeting for the Great South West. This is an interest group for MPs who wish to see economic growth in the South West region. The area covered includes Cornwall, Plymouth, Devon, Somerset, Dorset and Torbay.

My role was to present our concerns about the effect of ending the furlough scheme on unemployment in our region.

The Oxford Econometrics report commissioned by South West councils says this region is likely to be hit harder than average by the pandemic, mainly because we have a high concentration of sectors like accommodation and food services and manufacturing which were hit the hardest in the early parts of the crisis.

Torbay also has one of the highest percentages of furloughed jobs in the South West, which suggests that winter will see the Bay hit by an increase in unemployment claims when the scheme comes to an end.

This is why I championed the need for Government to not allow any further slippage for the Future High Street Fund and Town Deal applications for much-needed Government investment to help kick start and grow our local economy and town centres.

I also championed the need for the Government to not allow further slippage in the shared prosperity fund that is set to replace EU funding, that could be particularly targeted to help people with reskilling in a changing jobs market.

It’s been 12 months since we held out first Community Conference and now you can book your space on this year’s virtual interactive online event.

We can’t hold an event in a venue this year due to Covid-19 restrictions but this virtual event will help us to continue to engage with our communities and enable more people to take part than last year.

During Covid-19 there has been some fantastic work being carried out by individuals and groups across Torbay.

Many people have stepped forward to help other people in need and organisations have joined forces to provide much-needed services.

We want to keep this momentum and explore how we can build on such good work.

So please join the conversation online on September 30 between 5pm and 7pm to help shape the future of your community. Book your space online at www.eventbrite.com/e/torbay-virtual-community-conference-tickets-119888769537