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Chief apologises as Ofsted questions integrity of county's leadership

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Gloucestershire CC chief exectuve Peter Bungard has apologised after a damning Ofsted report into the council’s children’s social care services questioned the integrity of his senior leadership team.

A report published yesterday rated services as ‘inadequate’ overall and highlighted “serious and widespread failures” that led to vulnerable children not being protected.

Ofsted said “serious concerns” had been raised during the inspection about the integrity of the council’s senior leadership team, which inspectors said had failed to prioritise improvements to social work practices.

Inspectors also found “significant discrepancies” in information provided to them by the team which “demonstrated that some staff feel vulnerable [and] unsupported by senior managers and fearful of challenging or exposing poor practice”.

The report added: “An unprecedented number of staff anonymously raised concerns with the inspectors about the culture of bullying and blame that is prevalent in children’s social care.

“Relationships between senior managers and practitioners have broken down. Inspection findings and staff feedback, as well as an unprecedented number of whistleblowing concerns, demonstrate that the management oversight of children’s services is failing to protect children and families.”

Inspectors said that while chief executive Pete Bungard and the lead cabinet member for children Paul McLain, who did not stand for re-election in May, were both aware of key strengths and weaknesses across services, “the severity of the failings in some key areas… had not been articulated to them sufficiently well by senior managers”.

Alison Williams, director of young people and families at care and training provider Prospects, has taken over as the interim director of children’s services with immediate effect.

Ms Williams replaces Linda Uren, who took over the role in 2011 and is retiring in August. She will lead commissioning and education teams until she leaves the council.

Neelam Bhardwaja, former assistant director safeguarding children at Haringey LBC, has been appointed as interim improvement and operations director for children’s social care. Kathy O’Mahony has left her post as operations director.

The report said there had been a deterioration in services since 2011. Delays in issuing care proceedings led to some children left for “far too long in risky situations”.

There have been seven serious incident notifications relating to Gloucestershire submitted to Ofsted in the two years leading up to the inspection starting in February this year.

A total of three serious case reviews have been completed, with two ongoing at the time of the inspection.

In March Gloucestershire agreed to invest an extra £9.2m in children’s social care.

A spokesman for Gloucestershire said the council accepts it had not created “an environment for our staff to thrive and feel confident to raise concerns”.

Chief executive Pete Bungard said: “I am sorry that we have not supported our children and their families as quickly as we should have done.

“We have brought in some of the country’s top social work specialists to lead our 500 dedicated, passionate and committed social care and support staff. We will continue to work very closely with the Department for Education, Ofsted and the Local Government Association. With them we have produced an improvement plan.”

The opposition Liberal Democrat group has called for an extraordinary meeting of the council to be held in response to the Ofsted report.

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