Front line bonus for Cornwall social workers to boost standards

Cornwall Council has agreed “robust plans” to radically overhaul its failing social work department including increasing social workers’ salaries with a bonus after two years on the front line.

The proposals, which come in the wake of two damning reports warning that young people were being put at risk, are estimated to cost taxpayers around £300,000 a year.

The authority was severely criticised by Ofsted two years ago for its work in safeguarding children and young people and working with children in care.

Inspectors labelled the council “inadequate,” prompting the resignation of the director and a promise of “root and branch” reform by chief executive Kevin Lavery.

Andrew Wallis, an independent councillor and member of the Children, Schools and Families scrutiny committee, told the Western Morning News the pay rises would correct a disparity of up to £4,000 between Cornwall and other regions.

“There is a difference, especially with places such as Plymouth, and it can harm the council’s ability to recruit social workers,” he added.

“In the past we have not done as well as we could have and we were also very poor at offering professional qualifications – this is an important step in the right direction which allows staff to feel valued and be rewarded.”

The report by Ofsted in September 2009 identified failings at senior management level and led to the resignation of then director Dean Ashton.

Inspectors returned to the authority in February this year and, despite finding improvements in 15 key areas, they again warned that children were at risk of significant harm.

The second critical report identified a lack of “robust risk assessment” and deemed the focus on operational child protection procedures and practices to be insufficient.

The council’s new director of children’s services, Trevor Doughty, has won backing for the latest reforms with unanimous support from the council’s Conservative-led coalition cabinet.

Mr Doughty said the changes would “attract and retain” the very best social workers for vulnerable children and families and then invest in their professional development.

“To improve the quality of our safeguarding services we need to ensure that we are recruiting and retaining sufficient front line social workers with the right knowledge and skills to achieve high standards consistently.

“This strategy is about investing in the knowledge and skills of our social workers and encouraging them to stay on the front line.”

Neil Burden, cabinet member for children, accepted there was still more work to do but claimed the changes were “the last of our major fix areas”.

He added: “While we have already achieved a lot, we know there is still more to do.

“This is a very demanding job and we need to ensure that we keep our most skilled and experienced staff on the frontline and have systems in place to enable them to keep adding to their professional knowledge and skills.”

The proposals will create a new advanced practitioner grade and a performance-related market supplement after two years.