THE leader of Buckinghamshire County council said today the findings of a damning Ofsted report highlighting serious failings in children’s social services had been expected.
Ofsted listed a catalogue of failings across different areas of the children’s services provided by BCC.
Cllr Martin Tett told the BFP that the council had already set about tackling some of the issues raised in the report, published today.
The authority has been ranked as “inadequate” overall, and also in three key categories - dealing with children who need help and protection; children being looked after and “achieving permanence”; and in leadership, management and governance.
Cllr Tett said: “I’m obviously disappointed but it’s not unanticipated. We knew he had issues and were already taking action.
“The key findings didn’t come as a great surprise – we were already taking action on this. We have been working on this since the beginning of the year, we have met with our partners.
“The work was already in hand – we’re part through that. This does just act as a catalyst – we need to move even faster.”
Cllr Tett said that a Task and Finish group had been put together to get to the bottom of the problems facing children’s services, including the financial pressures.
He added that one major problem facing the council had been a huge increase in the last year in the level of referrals made to the council of children thought to be in need of safeguarding.
He said “We were really trying to get into the nitty-gritty of what’s causing the problem.
“There has been an enormous increase in referrals.”
He said last year there had been a 143 per cent increase in case referrals from the police, and a 139 per cent increase in referrals from the council’s health partners.
Cllr Tett said he thought it was likely some of these were the result of high profile abuse cases, such as Savile and Harris, leading more people to report such cases.
He added: “Clearly the referrals don’t all turn into children needing safeguarding. But they have been swamping us.”
Cllr Tett did say, however, he had been surprised by the harsh tone of the report, and told the BFP the council had attempted to be open with the watchdog during the inspection, highlighting various problems itself.
Responding to criticism in the report that these services had not been in the top two priorities for the council, he said: “We’re going to seek some clarification about that comment.
“I have personal views on a number of items but that’s not the same as saying what the top priorities are.
“There was a strategic plan developed and approved by full council. It had eight key points and all of equal priority. Two have children’s services as absolutely integral.
“Where did this come from, and how did Ofsted draw this conclusion?”
Cllr Tett said he was now awaiting a costed improvement plan to tackle the problems that had been raised, and that in October the cash-strapped council would be “putting our thinking caps on” in a bid to make savings ahead of next year’s budget.
He also said that more money had been pumped into these services over the last two years, and that the financial pressures on the authority were mounting, warning that reductions in other areas would be necessary.