Minister instructs council to work with private company to improve services

But West Berkshire's director of children's services says the improvement notice is welcome and 'light-touch'

West Berkshire. Photo:Michael Tyler/Flickr

Children’s minister Edward Timpson has appointed a private company to help West Berkshire’s failing children’s services improve.

In a letter Timpson instructed the council it must work with consultancy Exploring Choices “until some such time that [he] is satisfied this is no longer required”.

Inadequate inspection rating

The improvement notice issued yesterday comes after an Ofsted inspection in May found the council’s children’s service were inadequate.

However, West Berkshire’s director of children’s services, Rachael Wardell, said the improvement notice had been drawn up in conjunction with the council and was “light touch”.

“The letter did not contain a requirement for us to have an improvement board, which I think makes us unique. To me that’s a really positive sign that the DfE trusts us get it right.

“The improvement advisers are people we are already working with [since after the Ofsted report]. We are pleased to be working with them. They provide external challenge and support.

High staff turnover

Ofsted inspectors found West Berkshire’s staff turnover was high and the council was over-reliant on agency staff to fill in the gaps.

The report said: “Too many children have experienced unacceptable drift and delay in having their needs met.

“A significant proportion of child protection enquiries, assessments and plans for children are poor.”

The minister’s letter said the council must agree an improvement plan with Exploring Choices by September 25.

The plan should include actions to improve leadership and governance, the quality and delivery of practice and the stability of the social work workforce.

Private consultancy firm

Exploring Choices is a consultancy set up by a group of former teachers, including Heather Rushton who was previously a director at the Centre for Excellence and Outcomes (C4EO), part of the National Children’s Bureau.

Wardell said there had already been improvements since the report was published.

“We haven’t lost anyone from the service since the inspection and our agency rate is going down. We haven’t seen the very damaging things that often happen after an inspection. Often in local authorities [after a bad inspection] there is a culture of blame and scapegoating and we have been very clear that isn’t going to happen.”

Timpson said if the council is “unwilling or unable” to comply with the improvement notice, the department may use its powers of intervention to “direct the council to enter appropriate arrangement to secure the improvements required in children’s services”. It was by this process that Doncaster and Slough were instructed to move their children’s services into trusts.

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5 Responses to Minister instructs council to work with private company to improve services

  1. Fred September 1, 2015 at 10:23 am #

    So you have Government that gets elected despite a large majority of people voting against them at the election. They set about rewarding the mega rich bankers with tax hand outs and attacking to poor and disabled by cutting their benefits a number of times to pay for the bankers tax bonuses.
    Then you cut child protection (and adult protection) services by slashing funding of local authorities. Then when local authorities struggle you: (Let’s try a quick quiz question)
    1. Increase funding? or:
    2. Apologise for the attacks on the vulnerable and resign? or:
    3. Attack the public sector again, threaten to imprison social workers and reward the private sector with state hand outs?

  2. Victoria Coker September 2, 2015 at 10:27 am #

    My personal opinion is that we ( social workers/ care sectors) have a lot of work to do to support the vulnerable people in our society and in the world. We now have so many vulnerable children and families knocking on our doors for shelters.
    What are we to do to help? I am sure this is the question going through so many social workers minds.
    We have so many greedy people now in every society here and abroad such as the top bankers, the foot ballers, the top people at every organisation and department being paid too much for doing little are causing so much unrest due to greed and selfishness.

    What are we to do as social workers? This is the question going through our minds.

    We need to safeguard so many vulnerable children and adults.
    How do we achieve this? This is what is going through our minds as social workers.

    The government could have phrased some of their comments much better as to encourage and empower social workers but often some of the people in charge are short-sighted and lack understanding of the crucial issues/ situations that social workers are facing. How can they understand? Many of them are not social workers and even some of the social workers’ top managers do not always understand because they have buried their heads in making changes after changes with little positive outcomes because they just constantly reacting to the government agendas. They do often appreciate the link between the issues and conflicts.
    We need to leave politics where it should be and focus on what we are good at, which is caring, safeguarding, supporting vulnerable people in our society and for those knocking on our door steps. We must leave the blame cultures to the people who are interested in politics. We as social workers must continue to do our best under very difficult and stressful situations. The organisational structures in social care need to be flat as to allow more resources to reach those who are doing the crucial jobs and also to reach the service users that we are to care for.
    We need to recognise that there’s lack of funding and resources and may even be so for unforeseeable future. The management, the media and the society need to recognition of how hard social workers work and all the positive contributions and not just the negatives. These are the reasons why we need a strong leadership, accountability, foresight and good systems in place that will sustain many of the issues facing the modern duties in social work. Those at the top need to be more accountable in making right decisions and in making the best use of available resources and they must work in partnership with other agencies in sharing resources and in exploring new ideas as to reach best solutions in dealing with issues, problems and concerns as to meet the needs of our service users.
    Social workers are not politicians or senior managers of different organisations therefore we must remove ourselves from blaming others or blaming each others. We must remain calm and not over-react to government agendas or comments. Please leave blame cultures to the experts. We must continue to do what we are best at. I wish all the social workers well in all their endeavours.

    • Victoria Coker September 2, 2015 at 10:27 am #


    • Ruth Cartwright September 3, 2015 at 10:43 am #

      If I understand right, Victoria is saying Social Workers should get on with the tasks at hand (and of course there are more than enough of them) and leave the politics, funding decisions, etc to those in power (who she clearly indicates have sadly let us, and more to the point, our service users down). I think SWs should be protesting! We should be pointing out when cuts are made what the consequences of those cuts will be in a calm and professional manner, but we should not remain silent. SWs should join a Union and/or BASW and get involved as far as is possible in the struggle against austerity. That struggle may or may not be successful, but we cannot let our valuable services be decimated by people with little understanding of the needs of the people we serve without saying anything at all!

    • Stephanie Yorath September 4, 2015 at 9:40 am #

      Victoria, we would very much hope to hear from you – VCF – The Victoria Climbié Foundation UK