Neath Port Talbot Council and Peter Black AM clash over children's social services loan 'chaos'
AN Assembly Member has been accused of scaremongering after he went on the attack over children's social services in Neath Port Talbot.
Welsh Liberal Democrats regional AM Peter Black has made a series of claims arising from the authority's £375,000 "invest to save" loan from the Welsh Government to improve children's services.
The Swansea-based AM reckoned those services were later been made the subject of special measures because they were no longer fit for purpose.
However, Neath Port Talbot has responded by accusing the AM of being a scaremongerer who needed to get his facts straight.
Mr Black's remarks follow the well-publicised findings of a Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales (CSSIW) inspection in November last year.
The CSSIW invoked what is known as the serious concerns protocol after ruling there had been a lack of progress addressing problems identified in earlier inspections.
Neath Port Talbot accepted the findings and agreed a series of key improvements to work towards over the following 12 months.
However, Mr Black has since discovered, through a Freedom of Information Act request, that the council had a £374,730 loan in March, 2010, to transform the delivery of children's services.
Yet, he said, the CSSIW report found that approach to managing children on the risk register had actually led to "inconsistent and in some cases unsafe practice".
The report, he said, found the model did not work for a number of reasons.
These included 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 management support.
Mr Black said: "This project has now been abandoned, leaving the new head of children's services to pick up the pieces.
"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 instalment of nearly £125,000 due in the next financial year."
Mr Black added: "From what I can see from the report, the decision to proceed with this project plunged children's services in the county into chaos, potentially putting many children at risk.
"How was the decision to borrow the money and invest in this project 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 workloads?
"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. Yet there has been no scrutiny of this decision and no apology or explanation from the council.
"This money has been wasted while local children have been put at risk. That is an outrage."
A council spokeswoman said: "Mr Black is scaremongering and needs to get his facts straight.
"Contrary to his statement, children's services are not in special measures nor did the invest to save project leave the service in chaos.
"The council has pioneered lean systems work across a range of its services with generally positive results which have been verified independently.
"However, despite a positive assessment from Swansea University, the council decided a year ago,to discontinue the application of lean systems principles and employ alternative strategies for improvement."