WEST Berkshire Council was asked to apologise to the families and children that had been let down by children’s services over the last four years.
As Conservative councillors congratulated themselves on the service’s recent ‘good’ Ofsted rating, the leader of the council’s Liberal Democrat group, Lee Dillon, called for an apology on behalf of those the system had failed.
In 2015, Ofsted inspectors rated the service ‘inadequate’, as the watchdog identified ‘serious failures’, that were putting the district’s vulnerable children at risk of harm.
However, in July 2017, West Berkshire Council became the first authority to make the jump from ‘inadequate’ to ‘good’ in the space of a single inspection.
The council chamber erupted in applause from its Conservative contingent as executive member for children Lynne Doherty (Con, Northcroft) reported on the considerable achievement.
“The core service for this council is to protect children and as a council we prioritise the need to be good at safeguarding those in need of our help and protection,” she said.
“You will see from the report, vulnerable children’s experiences in the district have much improved since we were last inspected.”
The meeting then heard from Gordon Lundie (Con, Lambourn), council leader in 2015, when the ‘inadequate’ Ofsted report was published.
Mr Lundie echoed Mrs Doherty’s praise of the hard work from officers, councillors and partner agencies in helping to improve the vital service.
The councillor of 14 years said informing his colleagues of the inadequate rating in 2015 had been the “most difficult speech” he had ever given, but said he was “delighted” at the report before the council that evening.
Referencing the significant financial investment put into children’s services since 2015, Mr Lundie told members: “Today we see the fruits of that with this report from Ofsted.”
But Lee Dillon (Lib Dem, Thatcham North) said: “Obviously, we are happy and supportive that the service is moving forward.
“There’s a lot of congratulation going on this evening, but this is coming from a service that had to address critical weaknesses.
“I would have been able to add my congratulations a bit more if it had been accompanied by an apology to the children and parents of the district that were let down.”
Alan Macro (Lib Dem, Theale) also pointed out that Ofsted’s report had made a number of recommendations for further improvement, including in its responses to children who go missing from home or care and those who are at risk of sexual exploitation.
In response to Mr Dillon’s request for an apology, Mr Lundie said he had apologised two years ago and was “only happy to do so again”.
According to Mrs Doherty, work was already under way on the 39-point action plan to meet the nine recommendations for improvement made by Ofsted – a “marked improvement of 100 actions in the last report”, she pointed out.
Earlier, she told the chamber: “While we can reflect on our successes, and I think it’s important to do so, you will see from the report that there is still work to be done. Therefore, we set before you this evening the action plan required to meet the recommendations from Ofsted.”
Conservative councillors approved the action plans unanimously.