The cost of bringing Herefordshire’s troubled children’s services department up to standard has been put at nearly £22 million – over half of which will be spent this financial year.

These figures were presented to yesterday’s cabinet meeting of the council’s portfolio holders, who gave them unanimous approval.

The £11.5 million from the council’s “financial resilience reserve” this year is in addition to the £41.3 million allocated to the department under the council’s 2022/23 budget. This was already up 12 per cent on the £36.9 million figure for 2021/22.

A further £4.5 million will be added to the department’s budget for the next financial year. The council has already spent £5.8 million, partly from the Government, on the department’s transformation programme over the last year.

Cabinet member for children’s services Coun Diana Toynbee said the new sum was “a huge ask”, and added: “We need to show results and value for money for Herefordshire residents from this.”


The money will fund 82 more staff (full-time equivalent) on top of the department’s current figure of 429.

Council leader David Hitchiner said: “A big issue has been the number of cases dealt with by each social worker, mentioned over and over by Ofsted, which we need to reduce significantly.”

Deputy leader Coun Liz Harvey said: “This brings home the scale of what needs to go on in the directorate.

“But when we took over in 2019, the children’s services budget was less in real terms than in 2013 – there had been a significant paring back, and the increases since then have been to address the consequences of that.”

Coun Kath Hey said on this: “There are too many looked-after children in our county, and this investment must go towards prevention, so we don’t have (so many) coming into care.”

Liberal Democrats group leader Coun Terry James expressed concern that “the culture in children’s services and safeguarding was bad and doesn’t appear to be getting any better”.


Council leader David Hitchiner responded: “Culture is what we need to change and we are moving in that area already.”

Conservative group leader Jonathan Lester said: “If there’s one thing the council has to do well, it’s looking after children’s wellbeing,” but sought assurances that the council was good for the “huge increases” in funding.

Director of resources and assurance Andrew Lovegrove put the council’s financial resilience reserve at £16.7 million – “so there is plenty in that reserve, and we have other reserves”, he said. “This is affordable, and doesn’t put the council into jeopardy.”

True Independents group leader Bob Matthews hoped the department would address “extortionate cost of agency staff” it employs, saying it is “so demoralising to the regular staff to have people coming in who are paid half as much again”.

And he told Darryl Freeman, appointed director of children’s services last November: “Unless you address staff supervision and discipline, you won’t make the progress that we expect for all this money.”

To which Mr Freeman said: “We have some really good agency and locum staff who we want to hold onto. We want our workforce to be increasingly permanent – it’s better for children and families and less expensive. But recruitment is a challenge nationally.”

He added: “The introduction of service managers has brought more frequent supervision of staff and cases. That and manageable caseloads are the key to improvement.”


Coun Toynbee explained that setting the strategic funding increase had been hampered by “a large increase in pressures and referrals over the last year, for a combination of reasons”.

Mr Freeman confirmed his service had “seen a significant rise in demand” due in part to “increased levels of confidence in our partner agencies and referrers, and also increased demand resulting from the Covid pandemic and from recent high-profile national cases”.

He added: “For the year ahead we will need a higher level of capacity to respond to this.”

The children’s services department has been obliged to make drastic improvements since a High Court judgment against it in March last year, following the death of a child in care.

The Department for Education then issued the council with an improvement notice in May.