A GOVERNMENT commissioner will be appointed to help turn around Bradford Council’s beleaguered Children’s Services department after concerns were raised at the slow pace of improvement.

They are likely to be appointed in September - almost three years after the District’s Children’s Services were rated “inadequate” by Ofsted.

Since then an improvement plan has been put in place, but return inspections by Ofsted have found that while some improvements have been made, the pace has been painfully slow, with one MP describing it as “shameful.”

Recent updates have found that the department is over reliant on agency staff, and has a high turnover of social workers.

The commissioner will review the service, which could potentially lead to the department being taken out of the Council’s control.

Vicky Ford MP, Minister for Children and Families, has advised the Council that the Department for Education will change the “Notice to Improve” that was issued to the Council after the Ofsted judgement to a “Statutory Direction” - a much stricter order to improve.

The Council will be required to co-operate with the Commissioner once they are appointed to turn around the department as soon as possible.

Children's Services to take '2 or 3 years' to move from inadequate to good

It comes the week after a review into Child Sexual Exploitation in the District in the past 20 years was published, which found that the Council’s Children’s Services department was one of a number of local bodies that failed young victims of abuse over the years.

However, the appointment of the commissioner is a result of the Ofsted judgement of 2018, rather than the CSE review.

Yesterday the District’s two Conservative MPs Philip Davies (Shipley) and Robbie Moore (Keighley) said Council bosses should “hang their heads in shame that they can’t be trusted to run these vital services.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: "Protecting vulnerable people, including children, should be any local authority’s top priority and we take the situation in Bradford very seriously.

“When a council does not meet requirements to care for these children, we will not hesitate to take action that puts their needs first and brings about rapid improvement.”

After the announcement regarding the commissioner was made, a Council spokesman said: “The Council will be meeting with representatives from the Department for Education and Ofsted over the coming days to establish what steps need to be taken under the Statutory Direction and how these will affect the services that are delivered to the most vulnerable children in the district.

“Steps are already being taken to address the Minister’s concerns, including more support for families that are struggling so that their needs are met before they enter social care, extra training being arranged for staff, extra safeguarding expertise to scrutinise and check placements and additional HR, finance and IT support to help social work teams."

They said £28 million had been pumped into the Children's Service's budget, along with a one off investment of £8 million.

Council leader Susan Hinchcliffe said: “I absolutely understand why the Department for Education wish to appoint a commissioner to assure themselves that Bradford is able to deliver the improvement that is needed and keep children safe.

Ofsted finds improvement in Bradford Children's Services ‘too slow’ - despite some progress

“I agree with Ofsted and Department for Education that improvement in Children’s Services is not happening quickly enough.

“We’ve tasked council officers to provide immediate additional support for these areas both in terms of practical support of front-line staff and by making sure there is weekly scrutiny at senior management level which is led by the Chief Executive.

“We must see improvement and quickly.”

Kersten England, the Chief Executive, said: “I want to make it clear that the Council’s absolute priority is making sure that all our children have the best possible start in life and the opportunity to fulfil their potential, and that we are committed to making sure all children in our district are safe and that our services are good.

“We understand the Department for Education’s decision to put in a commissioner and we share their eagerness to accelerate our progress to improvement. Their independent scrutiny of the improvement work we have done so far will guide and challenge in equal measure.

“We will be meeting with representatives from the Department for Education and Ofsted over the coming days to establish what the next steps are and how these will affect the services we deliver to around 4,000 of the most vulnerable children in our district.”

Mark Douglas, strategic director of children’s services, was appointed in 2019 and at the time said it would take another “two or three years” before the department would be where it needed to be on its improvement plan.

He said: “We have acknowledged this change has been too slow and we’re redoubling our efforts to improve faster. We have always been clear that it will take time to fully implement our improvement plan but we accept the challenge from Ofsted and the Department for Education to speed this up.”

Review of Child Sexual Exploitation in Bradford over last 20 years

A joint statement by Mr Davies and Mr Moore released yesterday said the CSE report was “chilling.”

Mr Davies added: “There is no excuse for this, people at the top of Bradford Council need to be held accountable. Who is going to take responsibility for these failings or are we just expected to shrug our shoulders and move on? These failings can never be allowed to happen to our children again, and victims need to know that someone is taking responsibility.”

The Telegraph & Argus pointed out that the report covered a period during which the Conservatives were in charge of the Council for several years. He replied: “Of course there were mistakes that were made when there was a Conservative led Council. However, Labour have been back running the council now for the last 11 years and things are clearly getting worse.”

Mr Moore said: “Bradford’s Children’s services were rated inadequate three years ago. Council bosses have had years to sort this out. They haven’t, so it’s time for those responsible to resign, so we can get these vital services sorted out at speed.”

Responding to the comments from the two MPs, Cllr Hinchcliffe said: “The child sexual exploitation thematic review published last week was horrific to read and no one can disagree that those children were let down in the way all the authorities involved dealt with their cases. Those cases spanned a period of some 20 years during which the Council was under both Conservative and Labour leadership. Last week the council, police and health officials rightly gave an unreserved apology to those young people.

“We’re grateful to the victims for having the courage to tell their stories in the review. The cases which the MPs particularly highlight in their press release went back to 2001 and we should be clear that the people in senior positions now are not the same people who were in charge then.

“However, the institutions still exist and therefore an apology was absolutely appropriate.

“Regarding the ministerial directive to appoint a Commissioner, this is a separate issue to the CSE Thematic Review and it is misleading for the MPs to conflate the two issues together.

“The Commissioner is coming in to examine whether the council has the ability to improve faster after the 2018 inadequate rating. The Government’s Commissioner will come and do a review over a few months and make a judgement on whether the Council has the right plans and resources in place to accelerate that improvement.

“What Government do not expect to see at this time, is politicians trying to create headlines.

“What they do expect political leaders to do is for us to make calm and considered decisions in the best interests of the children in our care. We will work at pace with the Government’s Commissioner over the next few months to deliver rapid improvements and act on their professional advice. Our children’s welfare is always and will always be front of our mind and we must focus and act quickly to improve services for them.”