Bucks County Council chief Chris Williams apologises over children’s service failings

The chief executive of a council which a report claimed cared more about its reputation than vulnerable children has apologised.

Thursday, 19th March 2015, 8:35 am
Chris Williams

Speaking exclusively this week, Bucks County Council’s Chris Williams said that children’s services had fallen short.

He told how he is dedicating more of his time than ever to improving the failing department, which was branded inadequate by Ofsted last year.

Mr Williams spoke this week after a damning government report, which criticised the council’s reaction in the aftermath of Ofsted was leaked to this newspaper last week.

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He said: “I apologise to the children and young people of Buckinghamshire, they have not been as well served as they should have been. We have known about this issue for some considerable time.

“Sue Imbriano who was then the director of children’s services, and myself were alerting the council to it and taking specific actions to bring in additional staff and bring in social workers to get ourselves ready for the Ofsted inspection and that was beginning to take effect.

“But Ofsted came too soon to actually see the benefits of that actually taking place on the ground.”

He added: “I’ve committed myself to spending about 30% of my time to children’s services which means that some of my directors have had to take on other aspects of my role. We have brought in some additional senior management, too.

“My priority is to make sure that the corporate centre is supporting children’s services, to keep up the high priority that we are currently giving to children’s services and also to work with our partners over what’s called early help.”

He added: “We now have a threshold document to assess the level of severity and to assess the level of response that we need to give.”

And Mr Williams, who is paid £207,000 a year, admitted that the children’s services debacle had cost the council dear.

He said: “It has been a difficult choice for members to find the extra money because it has meant that we are taking money out of our reserves and have squeezed other budgets.”

The chief executive also dismissed concerns from the report that the council may struggle to keep up the pace, in order to make the essential changes, and outlined just what the department is doing to improve. He said: “One of the main reasons that we were judged inadequate was because we didn’t have enough social workers, the social workers we did have had very heavy case loads and we were using a lot of interims. The interims we did have were very good but there was no sense of permanence for the cases they were working on.”

One of the key criticisms in the report was that after Ofsted the council cared more about repairing its ‘tarnished reputation’ that protecting vulnerable children.

Mr Williams said: “The reason that members did spend some time doing that was that the first letter we had from the Secretary of State drew particular attention to the comment in the Ofsted report that said that Ofsted felt that politicians and senior officers didn’t regard children’s services as high priority.

“That was clearly wrong, and we had two courses of action which ran in parallel.”