It is shameful and inaccurate to blame these failures on the coalition. In fact, the recent report of the Children’s Commissioner notes that these problems pre-date the current coalition by many years. In fact they festered for years under previous Conservative administrations.
There have been unacceptable failures in Herefordshire children’s services, over a period of many years. No-one denies that - and the council’s chief executive, the director of children’s services, the leader and the cabinet member have all apologised fully and unreservedly to the children and families affected on a number of occasions. Things have not been good enough and we are absolutely determined to turn them around.
The report of the Children’s Commissioner was published on 1 March 2023. It was sent to the Minister in early March and was produced by the Commissioner, Eleanor Brazil, over a period of several months in late 2022 following the Ofsted Report published in September 2022.
As the Children’s Commissioner says in the first sentence of her report, ‘for at least the past ten years the quality of children’s services has been at best requires improvement, or inadequate.’ She notes that ‘concerns have remained over a very prolonged period’ (p10) and ‘very limited progress was evident in the years between 2012 to 2021’ (p11). Up until 2019, Herefordshire was run by the Conservatives. Indeed the current Leader of the Conservative group on Herefordshire Council was the Cabinet Member for Childrens’ Services until 2018.
It has only been in the last two years, under the coalition, that these issues have been brought into the open and properly addressed. As the Children’s Commissioner said in her report ‘More recently, following the inspection there has been a stronger corporate drive to make the changes needed and there is some evidence, though recent and small, of positive impact’ (p43).
We have made it our top priority to fix the problems in childrens’ services. We have invested an extra £22 million in doing this, and we are making real progress. It will take time, and there are big challenges - for example a national shortage of social workers - but we are determined. And we are already making a difference - for example, increasing the number of social workers in order to reduce caseloads, investing in recruitment and retention, and ‘growing our own’ i.e. training new social workers locally.
The fact is that it is this coalition administration that has finally put in the time, effort and money to turn things around after these issues were left to fester for too long under previous Conservative administrations. We have apologised fully to the children and families affected, and we are doing everything possible to ensure the mistakes of the past never happen again.
The coalition is absolutely determined that every child in Herefordshire should have a great start in life. We are doing what it takes to turn things around fully, and to become an Outstanding Childrens’ Services department.