Top troubleshooter, who handled Baby P crisis, brought in at Norfolk County Council’s children’s services

Mark Gurrey, who has been brought in to Norfolk County Council's children's services department.

Mark Gurrey, who has been brought in to Norfolk County Council's children's services department. - Credit: Submitted

An experienced troubleshooter has been appointed to help oversee Norfolk County Council's attempts to turn around its troubled children's services department.

Social work adviser Mark Gurrey, who was parachuted into Haringey Council after the death of Baby P, has been drafted in to County Hall in the first appointment of its kind in the country.

He has been brought in as children's services tries to make improvements after watchdogs were highly critical of the department in 2013.

The three Ofsted reports criticised the council's arrangements for safeguarding children, its role in challenging and supporting schools to improve and said services for looked after children were inadequate.

Norfolk County Council describes Mr Gurrey's arrival as a 'joint venture' between the authority and the government, with his appointment jointly commissioned by the council and the Department for Education (DfE).

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Mr Gurrey has just finished a 16-month stint in Doncaster, where he helped set up the first children's social care trust in the country. That came after the government stripped Doncaster Council of running children's service because of a 'legacy of failure'.

Mr Gurrey, who specialises in authorities where the government has decided intervention is needed, said: 'I am really pleased to be in Norfolk, working with the council on their current improvement journey.

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'I am looking forward to getting out and about across the county and in particular will want to ensure I hear the voices of those on the front line.

'My role is to support and challenge the council and then report openly and honestly to the DfE on the progress they are making.'

James Joyce, chairman of the council's children's services committee, said Mr Gurrey's experience and skills would be a 'huge asset'.

He said: 'The pace of change across the organisation has been significant and a challenge to our staff, who have worked tremendously to make improvements. However, we must not let the intensity die down and Mark's support and scrutiny will help to bring a fresh approach to our work.'

The Ofsted criticism led to the resignation of former children's services director Lisa Christensen, following pressure from MPs,and the appointment of interim director Sheila Lock.

Ms Lock is committed to the council until the summer, while the council earlier this week appointed three permanent assistant directors.

Cathy Mouser, Don Evans and Sal Thirlway will replace the current interim assistant directors Andrew Haley, Helen Wetherall and Michael Rosen, who will leave in May.

Millions of pounds has been spent to try to turn around children's services, with advertisements on the London Underground to try to lure social workers to Norfolk. Yet the council admitted recruitment was a struggle and progress in reducing the number of looked after children on the authority's books had been slower than hoped.

However, last month the council said the number of children in care had fallen from 1,153 in May 2014, to 1,060 at the start of January - the lowest level for nearly two years.

But the department suffered further criticism last month when MPs and foster carers called for an investigation into claims vulnerable children had been wrongly removed.

Team manager Peter Barron was suspended over allegations he removed a child from a foster carer without evidence of deliberate harm. He is awaiting a disciplinary hearing.

The Norfolk Foster Carers' Association said it had been contacted by dozens of parents and foster parents making similar claims over the last four years.

West Norfolk MP Henry Bellingham and North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said there were suspicions this was not an isolated case.

Norfolk County Council said it was not appropriate to comment on the specific case, but said it was aware of concerns which were being 'investigated thoroughly and carefully'.

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