ONE OF Britain’s biggest public sector trade unions has blamed poor management for the children’s services crisis at Kirklees Council.
Inspectors from Ofsted rated the service as inadequate, leading to external staff being hired in an attempt to turn around the crisis-hit department.
Unison bosses put the blame squarely at the feet of council officials, claiming that staff members are overworked, working with poor equipment, lack adequate management, are bullied and ‘left out to dry’.
Kirklees Unison branch secretary Paul Holmes blamed a lack of leadership for the inadequate rating and said: “Nothing in the report comes as a shock to our members.”
“They have been complaining about the situation for over two years and, until recently, there has been little response from the council. Nineteen per cent of children in Kirklees live in poverty and all children deserve decent children’s services.
“That won’t be achieved by spending millions of pounds on agency staff and the lack of consistency that temporary staff brings to children.”
Mr Holmes said that he hoped a new management structure could help to address the problems but added that the union would support its workers if they decided to strike.
“Kirklees Unison and its members want to see well-staffed, well-funded children’s services in the council,” he said.
“To achieve that, problems need addressing and adequate management needs to be in place.
“Too often in Britain workers are blamed when the real culprits are austerity, bad management and the outsourcing of public money to agencies or consultants.
“We will fully back our members in any industrial action that they support.”
Council bosses were quick to highlight that they had installed a new management team recently and were hoping to see improvements the next time they were inspected.
Kirklees chief executive Adrian Lythgo said: “Bringing services up to the right standard for children and families is our number one priority.
“We want all children to be safe and to have the best start in life, helping them fulfil their potential. The report recognises that our new management team know these services well, have made major improvements and are working with a clear, long-term vision.”
However the Conservative leader Coun David Hall questioned why warning signs had not been acted upon sooner.
He said: “There must have been alarm bells ringing somewhere. If there weren’t, why weren’t they and if there were, why were they ignored?”
Former Tory leader Coun Robert Light questioned why so many people had missed the warning signs. “The people are different now to when the problem was created – that’s important to say and should not be stressed enough,” he said. We still want to know why did it happen and who should have known?
“If we look at every other council that’s been through this, it’s not going to be a quick recovery. It’s going to be a long journey, and costly.”
Leader of the council Coun David Sheard was keen to accentuate the positives.
He said: “The report does highlight some positives, including strong support for adopted children, a good response to child sexual exploitation and the fact that last year’s GCSE outcomes for looked-after children were almost double the national average.
“At the same time, we acknowledge all of Ofsted’s comments and we know we must continue working at pace to raise local standards.
“It’s pleasing that Ofsted have praised Coun Erin Hill, who has done an excellent job since becoming portfolio holder last year. She is providing a high level of rigour and support.
“But we are not complacent in any way. We know the scale of the challenge and we are doing everything possible to make a real and positive difference in young people’s lives. We all want the very best for local children.