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Action taken to improve children's services

West Berkshire Council to spend £668,000 on addressing damning Ofsted report

Dan Cooper

Dan Cooper

dan.cooper@newburynews.co.uk

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01635 886632

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WEST Berkshire Council has come up with a plan to improve children’s services following a damning Ofsted report in May.

The council will spend £668,000 addressing the points that Ofsted raised in its findings.

The report revealed that vulnerable children in the district were at risk of harm due to “serious failures” from the council.

It added that leadership in the department required improvement, while there were also concerns over the high level of staff turnover and over-reliance on agency staff.

The council was rated inadequate in looking after children who need help and protection and deemed to require improvement in other key areas.

At a special council meeting on Monday, councillors were asked to approve an improvement plan which the council says will see it rated as “good at the very least" the next time it is inspected.

The improvement plan sets out a series of objectives based on feedback from the May Ofsted report.

The council has promised to meet expected timescales, implement a robust policy to prevent drift and delay and to ensure that children and young people’s care planning is timely and effective.

It also said the looked-after children, corporate parenting and sufficiency strategies will be subject to annual review and that it would take legal advice and legal action promptly when required.

During Monday’s meeting, opposition leader Alan Macro (Lib Dem, Theale) said: “I am pleased to see that £100,000 is to be invested in staff training this year, however it should be noted that the administration reduced the children’s services training allocation in this year’s budget by £30,000 just a few months ago.

“My erstwhile colleagues and I on the overview and scrutiny management commission have been expressing concern about the high proportion of agency staff in children’s services for a long time.

“The administration belatedly took action, yet agency staff still make up 77 per cent of senior social workers and 42 per cent of social workers.

“We need to look at more ways of attracting permanent staff.”

Mr Macro also complained that the improvement plan was only delivered in paper form to members three days prior to the meeting, saying they should have been given more time to read a “very important plan”.

However, the council’s portfolio holder for children’s services, Lynne Doherty (Con, Northcroft) defended the time frame, saying the plan was to get the improvement plan back to full council at “the earliest available opportunity” to prevent any further delays.

In a bid to retain more staff, the council has invested more than £1m in a social worker academy designed to support workers and offer benefits such as longer sabbaticals and bonuses for long service.

Council leader Gordon Lundie (Con, Lambourn Valley) said the authority wanted to reward social workers for the “difficult” roles they carried out.

Trade union Unison said it welcomed the plans, but expressed disappointment that it had not been consulted on the proposals before they were made public.

A statement read: “Unison is very supportive of the aims of the plan and the intention for the council to become ‘good at safeguarding’. It is regrettable that the expertise, knowledge and views of front-line staff do not appear to have been sought prior to the publication of the plan.”

In February this year, 176 children were being looked after by the local authority – an increase of 16 from March 2014.

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