THE man in charge of Southampton City Council in the year which saw the deaths of four children and the work of social services branded inadequate has insisted that his administration was not to blame for the failings.
Councillor Royston Smith said his party was not responsible for the events of 2011, which saw a damning Ofsted inspection into how well social services cared for the most vulnerable children and the deaths of four young boys, three of which were known to the department.
As reported by the Daily Echo, a raft of new measures have now been implemented by children’s services bosses at the authority following a complete overhaul.
Last night the city council could not confirm whether anyone had been disciplined or had lost their jobs as a result of the failings.
Although welcoming the changes, Unison boss Hayley Garner blamed the administration for the failings at that time, as during that year Southampton City Council employees were locked in a bitter dispute with the authority over pay and conditions.
It led to a series of walkouts which prompted warnings by social workers that children would suffer if the dispute continued.
Miss Garner, who worked in adult social services in 2011, said morale had reached rock bottom as staff felt under-valued after being told their pay would be cut.
As a result she said around 50 per cent of social workers left, leading to an over-reliance on agency staff and inconsistencies in the service.
Cllr Smith has maintained that the strike action was not the cause of staff leaving but a national shortage of experienced social workers in the wake of the Baby P case.
But Miss Garner said: “Yes, there was a problem nationwide with retaining experienced social workers but it was much worse in Southampton, where around 50 per cent of staff left to go to alternative posts in Hampshire and Portsmouth.
“I put that firmly at the door of the administration at the time, and the Ofsted report also highlights the same issue. The administration were warned that as a result of choosing to attack pay and conditions as part of a cost-cutting exercise, then children would suffer. No joy is taken in the fact that indeed happened.”
Cllr Smith, leader of the Conservative group in Southampton, said although the events of 2011 happened on his watch, he did not accept that the administration was to blame.
He said: “We were but councillors, not the practitioners.
“What I do know is that we wanted the best care for our vulnerable children and we made sure we did that by putting the money into it. We wanted to recruit more social workers to ease the workload.
“At that time nationally there was a chronic shortage of social workers following the Baby P case. What was the alternative to agency staff? We couldn’t have no social workers at all.”
Serious Case Reviews are yet to be published which examine whether more could have been done to prevent the deaths of Jayden Adams, two, his four-year-old brother Bradley and Blake Fowler, seven, who all died in 2011 in the January, April and December respectively.
A review into how three-month-old Nico Maynard died in the September of that year found that more information surrounding the background of the parents should have been shared between key agencies.