Senior Herefordshire officials have reacted to the publication today of a damning report by Government inspector Ofsted on the county’s children’s services department, which was found to be “inadequate” on all counts.

“It’s not a surprise, but it’s a pretty hard read,” according to Herefordshire Council’s chief executive Paul Walker, who said earlier this year that improving children’s services “is my and this council’s number one priority”.

He conceded there are still “deep-rooted problems which can’t be put right overnight”.

“Improvements are happening,” he said. “Caseloads per social worker have halved over the last six months, and we are developing the work we do with families. We are working hard to put in a culture of openness, and will apologise to them where necessary. But there is a long way to go.”

A Government commissioner, Eleanor Brazil, has been appointed to conduct a 12-week review of the department, before giving her recommendations to the Government by the end of December.

“She will conclude whether or not this local authority can make the necessary improvements,” Mr Walker said. “Can we deliver, or do we need to look at another model for children’s services?”


Meanwhile, an earlier Government appointee, Gladys Rhodes White, will continue to chair the improvement board overseeing the department, he explained. “They are two different, complementary roles.”

“The Secretary of State could in theory have taken complete control straight away, but he hasn’t done that,” he added.

Having previously worked with other failing local authorities’ children’s departments, Ms Brazil “doesn’t pull any punches”, the council's director of children’s services Darryl Freeman added.

On the question of how the department interacts with families, Mr Freeman said: “I get that some families are unhappy, and we are following up on concerns they have raised. But some have been abusive and threatening.”

He pointed out that Ofsted’s report did praise “many dedicated and committed social workers and managers” in the department, but added that recruitment and retention of staff “are challenging, nationally and locally – and the report will make that even harder”.