Report on council children’s services ‘malaise’ makes for ‘very uncomfortable reading’

A critical report into children’s services failures at a local authority makes for “very uncomfortable reading”, MP and former children’s minster Tim Loughton has said.

Inspectors identified a “chaotic” approach to leadership, wasted resources and a perception of a “significant bullying problem” at Conservative-controlled West Sussex County Council (pictured).

In his report for the Department for Education, published on Tuesday, John Coughlan identified a “malaise” at the council and said conditions for essential sustainable improvement are unlikely to exist for “some considerable time”.

In response, the Secretary of State for Education directed that the council be stripped of control of children’s social care services, which will instead be moved into an independent company.

Mr Loughton was re-elected as MP for East Worthing and Shoreham last week, and his constituency falls within the remit of the county council.

He served as parliamentary under secretary of state for children and families from May 2010 until September 2012.

Speaking to the PA News Agency, he said: “This report makes very uncomfortable reading and clearly there has been a systemic and prolonged failure within children’s services as the review makes clear.

“John Coughlan has done a very thorough job in laying bare the faults and weaknesses which have meant that vulnerable children and families in West Sussex have not received the support and protection that they need and are entitled to.

“Clearly there has been a catastrophic failure of leadership, inconsistency and confusion in leadership roles and a failure to recognise and apply what constitutes good social work practice.

“Given the warnings that West Sussex had in the past such a repeated failure is doubly frustrating and unacceptable.”

Mr Loughton said Mr Coughlan’s recommendations should be listened to and acted on urgently.

He continued: “In my experience the first hurdle for failing children’s services departments is failure to acknowledge the magnitude of the problem.

“It is encouraging therefore that the new leader of West Sussex Council Paul Marshall has held his hands up to the extent of the challenge facing the council and apologised accordingly.

“Leadership changes have urgently been put in place and the report rightly acknowledges the early positive indications of progress.

“There should be no doubt however that the challenges facing West Sussex are considerable, and along with the county’s other MPs I will be doing everything I can to support the council in making sure we have a children’s services department fit for purpose for our constituents.”

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