Somerset council has terminated the contract of temporary director of children’s services Peter Lewis due to anticipated ‘inadequate’ Ofsted judgements in a number of areas.
Lewis took up the post 18 months ago to. Prior to this he had been appointed to lead improvement in Haringey after the Baby P case.
Recently, Somerset council came under fire for the amount paid to Lewis. He was employed through an agency with payments made to a company owned by him and his wife, meaning he could make savings on tax and national insurance. Local government and communities secretary, Eric Pickles, called the amount – £318,500 (including agency fees) – “outrageous” and the tax arrangements “an abuse of process”.
Because he was not employed directly by the council, Lewis will not receive a payoff or pension payments.
In a letter to a local paper, council chief executive Pat Flaherty admitted it was a lot of money to pay one person in one role:
“Even if the person in that role was nationally recognised as being the best in the business, the right person to turn the service around from its current very disappointing ‘inadequate’ Ofsted rating. Yes, it is still a whole load of money and I was concerned we were not getting value for money.”
In September it was revealed that the council was taking money from reserves to make up for a £7 million overspend, which included a £2.7 million overspend on children’s services.
Somerset was put on notice to improve by Ofsted in August 2013. Child protection plans, allocation of cases and case plans specifically written to meet individual children’s needs were key measures set out in the notice; 75% of child protection cases needed to be judged ‘adequate’ or better. The council was required to audit all child protection plans to ensure criteria were met and its report released in January found 37.5% of cases to be inadequate, 42% adequate and 13% good. Two cases (0.4%) were judged to be outstanding. At the six month review, the inspectorate said there had been some progress, but there was still ‘much to do’.
Flaherty said although they were yet to receive any Ofsted ratings they knew children’s centres in Taunton were likely to be rated as inadequate and he feared similar judgements in other areas of children’s services were on the way.
At the end of September, following an investigation into concerns raised at the start of the year, the council closed it was closing two children’s homes in the county. “Poor management, sub-standard care and concerns over safeguarding” were cited as problems at West End Cottage and Appledore homes.
As well as appointing Lewis and a deputy director (Kate Lovell, who worked with Lewis at Haringey), the council has also invested in more social workers. There are now 170, a 29% increase on 18 months ago.
However, Lewis has reportedly claimed he was puzzled by the announcement, given that he had resigned three months ago but had agreed to stay on until December to help the council find a permanent DCS.
The council is currently advertising for a permanent director of children’s services. Flaherty will hold the role on a temporary basis in the mean time.
This article was amended on 23 October to clarify that it was Somerset council not Ofsted that audited the child protection plans.