26.1 The committee was pleased to note that the letter indicated that there was some improvement in practice. It is however important to note that the letter also indicated that there was still variable practice across teams and, in effect, the quality of the service you received could depend on the locality in which you lived.
26.2 The Director of Children’s Services (DCS) informed the committee that he felt that it was important to be cautious. Whilst there was continuous improvement this was fragile. He stated that he felt that the letter understated the challenging position the council was in with regard to recruitment and retention. The council was overly reliant on newly qualified social workers and this brought with it a degree of risk. The committee was informed that a robust training programme was in place across the social work teams to improve and develop good practice.
26.3 Within the context of recruitment and retention it was important to note that market forces played a significant role. The current market worked for the experienced social worker, not the local authority. The council’s neighbouring authorities were in the same position as Gloucestershire, trying to recover from poor Ofsted outcomes; and each local authority was doing what it could to attract experienced social workers to them.
26.4 In response to questions the DCS gave a detailed update on the activity, led by corporate HR, to recruit and retain social workers; and the increased use of technology (eg. video conferencing) to improve and support process. He also explained the longer term plans related to ‘growing our own’ social workers. A particular aspect of this work would be the creation of an Academy to be linked to one of the universities, which would provide training opportunities, masterclasses etc; this approach was working well in Cumbria. Discussions were also underway with the universities with regard to creating an apprenticeship route into social work.
26.5 The DCS stated that it was important to be clear that the bottom line was that if Ofsted were to undertake a full inspection now the council’s rating would be the same.
26.6 Committee members ask for clarification on budget/resource issues. The DCS informed members that, in terms of overall funding, the council was now on a comparable level to other councils. He stated that the issue should not be about a lack of resource but about how effectively resources were deployed. He explained that each agency social worker cost the authority £15k more than one directly employed by the council and that currently 120 agency workers were in place in the council. The council was also managing some high cost placements which were already predicting an overspend. It was explained that the whole process of how the council commissioned these places needed to be looked at carefully. Many of these placements were made in an unplanned way, on an emergency basis. It was a complex picture, but it was all related to how cases were managed.
26.7 It was explained that some of the teams were harder to recruit to than others, eg. the front door and children in need teams. Incentives were being offered to attract people to these roles. It was noted that other social work employees could view this as unfair, but the DCS stated that if you were running a business and only have finite resources you needed to direct them to the part that is ‘broken’.
26.8 It was questioned as to how would we know that the social workers were doing the job such that it was having a positive impact. The DCS explained that this was the difference between compliance and quality, and the council needed to improve in both these areas.
26.9 A member of the committee commented that the press release on the Ofsted Letter seemed to paint a rosier picture than the one portrayed today; and questioned whether the council was being honest to everyone. The DCS stated that it was important to strike a balance; it was not just about informing the wider audience but also being aware of and managing staff morale. It was important to celebrate the improvement in a proportional way. There were some fantastic staff doing fantastic work, and we needed to bring everyone up to that level.
26.10 The committee thanked the DCS for his frankness, and members agreed that it was important that the committee received the full picture of activity.