EARLIER this week an Ofsted inspection of children's services in Wirral brought to light a devastating catalogue of serious and widespread failings.

It revealed vulnerable children are being subjected to unacceptable delays leading to them facing ever-increasing risks.

And it branded as "inadequate" the safeguarding board set up to protect children, saying its members have failed to ensure they are free from being influenced. 

The Globe invited three leading Wirral figures to give their views on the publication of the report and its immediate aftermath.

Phil Davies is Labour leader of the council and clearly must ensure the failings identified in the inspection are put right as a matter of urgency. He has promised to make this issue his number one priority.

Martin Morton is a former manager in the department for adult social services and blew the whistle on a scandal in which the council was ripping-off vulnerable care home tenants under a "special charging" policy that saw them being systematically overcharged for their rent.

Chris Blakeley is a Conservative councillor who has earned a reputation for being an outspoken critic of crucial decisions taken by the town hall, including the recent controversial closure of Girtrell Court respite home.

Leader of the council Cllr Phil Davies:

Wirral Globe:

THIS week’s Ofsted report was a sobering moment for Wirral Council and its numerous partners involved in caring for our vulnerable youngsters.

The challenges and shortcomings identified in the report make it abundantly clear to all that changes are required.

Those changes are in our processes, our management and our culture.

Those changes have started now.

Other voices will no doubt play the blame game, but as leader of the council my attention is focussed on moving forward, fixing the problems identified, and returning Wirral’s fsted ranking to good or better.

Let me begin by describing what has happened since the report was published on Tuesday morning.

That afternoon, we held a meeting between senior officers from the council and Department for Education officials.

Together we discussed the report’s findings, the frank recommendations it made, and our next steps.

As part of the process to make the necessary changes, we have established an improvement board and invited representatives of partner organisations like the police, NHS and the other political groups on Wirral Council to participate.

This is an important step in the process of understanding what went wrong, what needs to happen and for rebuilding confidence.

The board will also have two independent members, one to chair it and the other an independent advisor appointed by the Department of Education.

We agreed to have this board meet and determine a course of action in the coming three weeks, and be responsible for producing an action plan by the start of December.

Department for Education senior advisors will be back in six months to check on our progress on delivering our plan.

This is our collective top priority.

To achieve our improvement goals we need to make the right resources and people available.

I have instructed the chief executive to personally work on this with the director of children’s services, and the council has made £2m immediately available so action can be taken quickly.

In closing, I want to make sure people who are upset by this report understand the incredibly difficult circumstances our social workers and partners work in.

Each day our teams come to work with one mission in mind – provide the best possible care for our vulnerable children.

It is important to remind ourselves of the fact the report did not identify any child at immediate risk of harm: this is down to the commitment and the ongoing professionalism of social workers in the borough.

But in today’s world, transparency and openness are as vital as compassion and care.

This means the systems we use to track, manage and assess our social care work must be adequately scrutinised from within the council and outside organisations like Ofsted.

Our systems of scrutiny and operational management did not work correctly and addressing this challenge lies at the heart of the report’s findings.

It is my responsibility to make sure these improvements happen now.

I pledge to write again to residents with details of our action plan in December and on the progress we have made when the Department for Education team return in six months’ time.

Whistleblower Martin Morton:

Wirral Globe:

THE opening line of Ofsted's children's services inspection report published this week reads: "There are widespread and serious failures in the services provided to children who need help and protection in Wirral."  

While this may be to the point and damning in equal measure what I found particularly telling was that report goes on to state that "almost all of the deficits identified in this inspection were known to senior leaders." 

I am minded to not only to recall the independent review of my whistleblowing concerns in adult social care that was published in 2012 but an article that social care website Community Care asked me to write for them in 2014 in the wake of the Baroness Jay report into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham.

Baroness Jay (now in charge of the highly-controversial and much delayed investigation into historical child abuse allegations) stated in her report: "Within social care the scale and seriousness of the problem was underplayed by senior managers."

Or as the Ofsted inspection report puts it: " A culture of over-optimism goes unchallenged"

As I wrote at the time: "What struck me, as these revelations always do, is how Rotherham Council and other agencies involved in safeguarding vulnerable children managed to keep serious concerns hidden for so long, when it was clear that many social workers and their managers knew there was a serious issue of abuse and had known for a very long time".

While we are not talking anything like the seriousness of the concerns that were reported in Rotherham and it is reassuring to know that during the Ofsted inspection there was "no immediate risk of significant harm," it seems the same culture and mindset has been at work on Wirral - a situation which is exacerbated by what Ofsted describe as " a thread of weak middle and frontline management." 

I have to ask myself again: Is it because social workers are not listened to or because they don't whistleblow loudly or shrill enough ?

Might it have something to do with the fact that social work training steers away from the controversial but absolutely vital area of how to safely raise concerns?

Or is it that some of our institutions are now so fundamentally broken that social workers' ability to speak up to those in power, in the name of protecting children and safeguarding vulnerable adults, is now fatally compromised?

Why is it so hard for public servants to say openly: "We have a problem and we need to do something about it..."

Has reputation management become so pervasive that raising concerns and wanting to put things right is to be repressed at all costs? 

The irony being of course that when failings are eventually exposed, as they always are, organisations such as Wirral Council only tarnish their reputation even further.

I would also add that I always thought it was a big mistake to combine the people overview and scrutiny committee as its remit is far too wide and further inhibits thorough and open scrutiny.

It is also significant that the Ofsted report pointedly makes reference to the fact that governance arrangements surrounding children's services do not ensure that it is "independent of influence." 

What this lack of robust challenge, independent oversight and openness means is that the findings of the Ofsted report should not have come as a surprise to anyone - just as it clearly did not to the senior leaders of Wirral Council.

Outspoken critic, councillor Chris Blakeley:

Wirral Globe:

DO you know of any children who witness or even experience abuse at home?

If you do, you’re already doing better than Wirral Council.

These are the children who are in the kind of situations, suffering abuse and neglect that most of us, even as adults, never see.

Until this week most people probably assumed that on something so important, not even Wirral Council could screw it up.

Well this week a new report by Ofsted revealed that your town hall has, indeed, screwed up.

Or more accurately, screwed up the lives of some of the children whose only mistake was to be born into a situation they never asked for.

Here in Wirral, 2,712 children are in need of specialist child protection services. Almost 400 children are so at risk that they need a formal plan to try to keep them safe. While for 705 children the safest option is not to be at home but, instead to be "looked after" by Wirral Council.

Ofsted makes it clear that the most senior directors in the town hall have failed to ensure that each of these children has received the help, support and love they need.

Some of these children have been left in emotionally abusive situations because they were "miscategorised.'

Some of these children were not told they can have the help of an advocate to act on their behalf.

Some of these children when approaching the ages of 16 and 17, have simply disappeared off the council’s radar.

Some of these children ended up as homeless - at the potential mercy of any passing pimp or paedophile.

At the same time some families who have been given the green light to adopt have not been referred to the Adoption Register.

That means the loving, caring homes these children need instead have been left empty.

The council’s response? Much hand-wringing, carefully worded statements and a bung of £2m.

Strangely reminiscent of the same promises that were made when the town hall had been found guilty of deliberately overcharging vulnerable adults for their care.

So that’s okay then?

Well, actually, it’s not.

Four years ago, (under the Conservative/Lib-Dem coaltion council) these same services that are now rated as "inadequate’ were rated as "good."

So what’s gone wrong?

Quite simply, a failure of leadership. The report makes clear that the job of head of service for children’s social care has been left unfilled due to "other priorities."

Spot on with that one, Ofsted.

"Other priorities" such as an extra bin for food waste costing £1.5m or a council newspaper costing £207,000.

The report states: “While a new structure was completed following the appointment of a permanent chief executive 15 months ago, this has not yet resulted in the anticipated improvements.”

Right again, Ofsted.

This "new" structure has seen massive pay rises for people at the top; most recently Labour gave three directors a pay rise of £34,000. Eleven directors at the town hall are now paid more than £100,000 a year.

So far, not one of these people has resigned or been sacked. Nor for that matter have any of the nine Labour cabinet members or the 20 "pledge champions."

Not one of these people has even had the decency to use the word "sorry."

Indeed, when the going gets tough Labour goes to ground. Keeping their heads down and hoping it will all blow over. Letting the unelected officers take the flak.

Are we really expected to believe that the people who have allowed the service to deteriorate are the same people who are now going to turn it around?

And try telling some of the children in the council’s care that Wirral is now the country’s "most improved council."

That’s if you can find them.