EXCLUSIVE: Cry for help over ‘unacceptable’ risks to children SIX months before Ofsted inspection

The letter sent by Sue Imbriano to Chris Williams in January and obtained by The Bucks Herald
The letter sent by Sue Imbriano to Chris Williams in January and obtained by The Bucks Herald

A high-level memo warning that the council was putting vulnerable children at risk was received by chief executive Chris Williams six months before a damning Ofsted inspection.

The letter, obtained by The Bucks Herald, was sent by Bucks County Council’s then-children’s services boss Sue Imbriano in January.

It warns Mr Williams about an ‘unacceptably high level of risk in terms of the safeguarding of children in Buckinghamshire.’

Mrs Imbriano admits in the letter that she ‘reflected long and hard’ before ‘writing formally’ to Mr Williams about her concerns.

She warns that many vulnerable children had not been allocated case workers, with social workers being pushed ‘to volumes of work which are counter-productive and, paradoxically, might result in...an increased risk to children’.

She adds that looked after children were experiencing a number of changes in their social worker and high work loads were leading to a ‘crisis management approach’ among staff.

Mrs Imbriano says ‘there is no doubt in my mind that there are some things which are not being carried out in the way we require and this needs a change of culture as well as practice’, and she also warns that they would likely fail an inspection by Ofsted.

She calls for the department to be given more resources although she ‘absolutely recognises the legitimate and understandable concerns expressed by yourself, the cabinet member and the head of finance about our ability to fund additional capacity’.

At the end of the letter she adds: “I know you will understand that, professionally and morally, I need to alert you to my concerns.”

However, it is only since the Ofsted report –which lists many of Mrs Imbriano’s concerns – that the council has launched an improvement plan and invested an extra £8 million to turn around the service.

The council’s political leader, Martin Tett, said he and then-cabinet member Angela Macpherson were never shown the letter. The regulatory and audit committee has asked why it was not shown to councillors at the time, while a member also said it was ‘strange’ that a ‘written letter would form part of a normal management system’.

Mr Tett said: “I’ve just read it and it raises a number of serious issues in a packaged way which was slightly different to what I had seen at that time.

“My understanding is Chris met with her a number of times and they agreed a course of action.”

He added: “I didn’t know about this letter, but if I had seen it I would have had to have set up a meeting with Chris to discuss the serious issues and how to address them.

“But this was an internal management letter from one manager to another to discuss management actions.”

Mrs Imbriano retired from her role of eight years in September and she was not contactable for a comment.

Mr Williams said: “The letter from Sue Imbriano was not a statutory letter, but part of the normal management processes of the council.

“These concerns were being managed and action was being taken. Following my meeting with Mrs Imbriano , I responded by agreeing additional resources to tackle the backlog of cases and to provide further support to our own staff.

“In addition, I agreed further training from our head of legal services for staff preparing court reports and commissioned the service director to identify other changes to our systems and processes to ease the situation.”