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Hard-pressed Neath Port Talbot Council loses £375,000 on abortive invest-to-save project

January 6, 2013 5:42 PM

The Welsh Liberal Democrats Assembly Member for South Wales West, Peter Black has questioned the decision-making process behind a Council's bid for a loan of £375,000 from the Welsh Government for a now-abandoned project.

Mr. Black has received a reply to a freedom of information request about an invest-to-save loan of £374,730 secured by Neath Port Talbot Council in March 2010, to transform the way that they deliver children's services. However, according to the latest Social Services Inspectorate's report* the adoption of the new Lean systems approach to managing children on the risk register, led to 'inconsistent and in some cases unsafe practice.'

The report goes on to say that the model did not work for a number of reasons including the high volume of referrals coming into each team requiring a timely response, the high numbers of child protection cases requiring legal action, a lack of capacity and inexperienced social workers not getting the management support that they needed. Neath Port Talbot Council has 486 children in care and over 800 on the at-risk register.

"This project has now been abandoned, leaving the new head of children's services to pick up the pieces," said Mr. Black. "The Council's children's services are in special measures and not considered currently fit for purpose. However, the money still has to be repaid, with the final installment of nearly £125,000 due in the next financial year. This is an additional burden for a Council already struggling with finding £16 million of savings over the next five years.

"From what I can see from the social services inspectorate report, the decision to proceed with this project plunged children's services in the County Borough into chaos, potentially putting many children at risk. Questions need to be answered as how the decision to borrow the money and invest in this project was taken? What risk assessment was undertaken and how robust was it? Were elected members involved in the decision? How was the project monitored during its lifetime and did that involve an assessment of its impact on the workloads of social workers?

"The investment in this new system appears to be one of the reasons why children's services in Neath Port Talbot are in special measures. And yet there has been no scrutiny of this decision and no apology or explanation from the Council. This money has been wasted whilst local children have been put at risk. That is an outrage."


Note for Editors: The *CSSIW report is linked here: http://wales.gov.uk/docs/cssiw/report/121116npten.pdf.