Watchdog has ‘continued concerns’ about council social care, report shows

Norfolk County Council's headquarters at County Hall in Norwich. Pic: Neil Perry.

Norfolk County Council's headquarters at County Hall in Norwich. Pic: Neil Perry. - Credit: Archant

A social care watchdog has said it has “continued concerns” about Norfolk county council and that the authority has a “wider issue”.

The county council was criticised by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman for taking too long to respond to enquiries and recommendations, as well as providing incomplete responses and failing to signpost complainants to the service.

Ombudsman Michael King wrote to Norfolk county council in an annual review letter published on Wednesday, July 29.

He said: “For the last two years, I have highlighted concerns about how your council responded to our investigations. Unfortunately, these concerns have continued over the last 12 months.

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“Again, your council has taken too long to respond to some of our enquiries and recommendations and some enquiry responses have been incomplete. My investigators have also noted the council’s failure to always signpost complainants to our service.

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“There appears to be a wider issue within your council and I would welcome the opportunity to meet with you to discuss the issues raised and how we can improve liaison between our organisations.”

The ombudsman published two public reports in the past year into the actions of the council - one about the delay in the care of an elderly man and the other about the council’s failure to educate a special needs child.

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The annual report also revealed that 63pc of complaints against the county council were upheld by the watchdog in 2019-20.

It comes as the council agreed to continued scrutiny of its services for children with additional needs.

Council leader Andrew Proctor said: “The council delivers a wide range of complex services to the people of Norfolk every day and, most of the time, we get it right.

“When we make mistakes, we always aim to put things right, when we can.

“We work closely with the local government ombudsman and have implemented 100pc of his team’s recommendations.”

He added: “We hosted a visit from the ombudsman last September, when he met the executive director, cabinet member, and senior management team from adult social services.

“We are pleased the ombudsman was greatly impressed by the positive commitment from members and officers to improve the council’s learning from public concerns and complaints.”

Tim Adams, Liberal Democrat Norfolk county councillor said, “We have for some time now highlighted this issue to the Conservative administration, so I welcome that the ombudsman is forcing the council to come clean.”

“The Local Government Ombudsman has been consistently finding against the council for how it provides these services to children with special educational needs, and their families, who are both being impacted dreadfully by the delays to EHCPs.

“The council has also had the second highest number of adult social care complaints in the country lodged with watchdogs in the past year.”

Mr Adams added: “The council’s recent report of its complaints showed that the number of complaints relating to adult social services alone had increased from 486 to 529, an 8.8pc increase from last year. The council has also had two ‘special visits’ from senior figures from the ombudsman which would not have happened if the council had been performing well.

“We regularly hear from residents with disabilities that they have lost all respect for the council because of the way they are being treated. We are not surprised. It is difficult to see how the council could win back this respect without a massive change in culture and approach.”

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