The long-term failure of Surrey CC to properly implement an IT system for children’s social care and special educational needs meant processes were “open to the risk of significant error or fraud,” auditors have found.
An independent audit report, ordered by chief executive Joanna Killian last year, found “numerous and significant control weaknesses” in care assessments and approvals, monitoring, commissioning and procurement, assessment of future care liabilities and reviews of care needs.
Surrey’s children’s services were rated inadequate in May 2018. Auditors found there were discrepancies between where a child was placed and the information on the system, leading to a high risk that Surrey would not be able to meet statutory obligations as a corporate parent as the location of a looked after child may not be known.
“Most of the senior officers who were here at the time have now left,” Dave Hill, executive director for children
The report, by Orbis, said many council officers were aware of a range of problems with how case management systems for social care and education, provided by the company Liquidlogic, were introduced in 2009 and subsequently managed.
However, the report says that “until recently, very little effort has been made to address these”.
Auditors concluded processes provided “minimal assurance”, with a “high risk to ability of the system/service to meet its objectives”.
Surrey’s chidlren’s services received a damning Ofsted report in May last year prompting the government to appoint a commissioner to oversee improvements. Ofsted found senior management and elected members at Surrey had failed to “accept and act” on serious failings identified in the council’s children’s services in 2015.
Ms Killian, who joined the council in March 2018, ordered the audit review in June of that year after it emerged there could be a “substantial shift” from an expected underspend to an overspend in the children’s, families and learning directorate. Concerns were also raised about the systems and processes in place relating to care packages. The council is facing a budget gap of £86m by the end of 2019-20.
The subsequent report was distributed internally in January this year and was considered by Surrey’s children and education select committee yesterday.
Auditors were unable to find the business case or supporting paperwork for the relevant cabinet member’s decision to purchase the case management system for looked after children, which enables the child’s progress to be tracked through a history of events.
Incorrect figures were also included on financial returns, with reports of overpayments to care providers and foster carers.
The system providing information on all school age children, including children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), was found to provide data of poor quality and was not linked “in any way” to the case management system for looked after children.
An IT system purchased in 2012 to improve financial administration across all children’s services was found to have not to have been implemented fully and was not used for special educational needs and disabilities or payments for looked after children’s residential payments.
Inadequacies in the system for monitoring education and health and care plans for SEND children increased the risk that Surrey was unable to meet its statutory requirements, auditors said.
Responding to the report, Chris Botton, leader of Surrey’s opposition Liberal Democrat group said while it was “hard” to see such a “damning” report he has been told the problems have now been remedied and no evidence of criminal activity had been found.
“It is clear that we need to take more holistic approaches to services, rather than just looking at the individual needs in isolation, so hopefully this will be a positive outcome of the ongoing transformation process.”
LGC reported in January how Surrey’s interim staffing bill had spiralled to £3m, with £1.2m of this relating to children’s services.
In a statement Surrey’s executive director for children, life long learning and culture Dave Hill said: “Most of the senior officers who were here at the time have now left. We have already created new teams to oversee budgets and all the issues raised in the audit are being addressed as part of a restructure of the whole service to help ensure support for children in Surrey is as good as it possibly can be.”