A SPECIALIST service for children with severe learning needs in Gwent has been widely praised in an independent review, with its regional approach described as a “template for the future”.

The wide-ranging review of the Sensory and Communication Support Service (SenCom) says the involvement of all five Gwent councils is vital to its success and future plans.

Commissioned by the Welsh Local Government Association, the review was carried out after Newport council proposed leaving the collaboration to set up an ‘equivalent’ service for the city’s 549 children who use it.

But, following a campaign by the Argus and lobbying by dedicated parents, politicians, staff and others, the council reversed its controversial decision and the five Gwent councils have committed to the service until the 2022 council elections.


The independent review looked at how effectively, efficiently, equitably and economically SenCom delivers a ‘value for money’ service to children, their families and schools – following consultation with those who use it.

It says working across five authorities is “now well and truly tested and embedded” in the service.

This set up is described as a “key strength of the service”, allowing it to respond to the low incidence and “sporadic distribution” of the children it supports.

“Diminution of the number of local authorities involved will have a significant and disproportionate effect on the service’s fundamental characteristic; to be able to respond speedily and deploy specialist staff where the children and young people and their families are living,” the report says.

It adds: “This model of regional working is a template for the future . . . the sensory communication support service has now created a platform from which they can drive forward and provide exemplary support and intervention to children, young people and families.”

The review also shows the service has kept a balanced budget – despite it not being increased over recent years – while salaries have risen with the cost of living.

Each of the five Gwent councils contribute to the £2.261-million budget based on the number of children served in the local authority area, with Caerphilly paying the most at 32 per cent, followed by Newport which contributes 27 per cent.

More than £1.8 million of last year’s budget was allocated to spend on salaries, making up 82 per cent of the total.

The “unanimity of view” from those consulted was that services are delivered “unfailingly, consistently and to a very good standard in such an economic context”.

More than 80 per cent of parents said they were satisfied or very satisfied with support provided by SenCom and more than 80 per cent of schools said the service met expectations.

Recommendations from the review include that SenCom sets up a new partnership board to ensure clear governance is in place and provide additional leadership.

The service is also recommended to consider more local working to help it effectively cover a large area, providing “more equitable access” to services and reducing travel times.

More information about the range of services which SenCom can offer should also be made available to families, the review found.

A spokesman for Torfaen council, the lead authority for SenCom, said the five Gwent authorities welcome the review.

“All have recognised the positive comments within the review and are committed to working together in the near future,” the spokesman said.