October 18, 2014
Peter Lewis sacked as County Council's director of children's services

Somerset County Council announced on Friday it has terminated its contract with interim Director of Children’s Services Peter Lewis.

It follows a series of disappointing reports into some of the Council’s Children’s Homes and Children’s Centres.

Mr Lewis will leave the Council immediately. As he was not a direct employee of the Council, there will be no pay-off and no pension payments.

The announcement was made by Chief Executive Pat Flaherty. “I came into my post six months ago, and I gave Peter and his team time to prove themselves to me. It is hugely disappointing that results have not matched expectations,” he said.

Mr Lewis was taken on by the Council 18 months ago, in part because of his national recognition as a leader in this industry.

“We have put in extra budgets and extra staff including more children’s social workers,” Mr Flaherty said. “This has brought improvements which the government has recognised but sadly not at the level or speeds anticipated and the current situation with our children’s homes and children’s centres is just not good enough.”

The high level departure comes just weeks after the Council announced it was closing down two of its children’s homes due to failings in the standards of care provided, poor management and safeguarding issues.

Preliminary findings of a recent Ofsted inspection of children’s centres in Taunton are also likely to result in a further 'Inadequate' rating.

"When you make this much investment into Children’s Services, you expect results to match," said Mr Flaherty. "Although we have seen improvement in some areas, it is too little and too slow. With the recent findings around Children’s Homes and Children’s Centres, I believe now is the time to be decisive, move forward and give fresh impetus to improvements to the support we give to vulnerable children."

The Council is currently advertising for a permanent position of Director of Children’s Services. In the meantime the role will be held on a temporary basis by the CEO.

Meanwhile, the County Council's Liberal Democrat leader has called for the cabinet member to resign over the announcement.

Jane Lock, Leader of the Liberal Democrat Opposition at Somerset County Council, said: "It's time the Tories came to their senses and acted responsibly. To my disappointment they were not capable of doing so, with the council's Chief Exec having to step in and remove Mr Lewis. They were well aware of the continuing crisis in the service that protects our most vulnerable children; this simply isn't good enough."

"The Liberal Democrats have constantly made the Conservative led county council aware of issues that have been brought to their attention and when no action was taken went as far as informing OFSTED."

"This man has cost the taxpayers of Somerset £500,000 since being brought in 18 months ago, after Children's Services were rated as inadequate by OFSTED, but indeed the higher cost has been to the consistency and quality of care provided for children. There has clearly been no discernible improvement."

"The Tories have failed in their duty to children; it is their lack of leadership, poor policies and disastrous cuts that have contributed to the horrendous position Somerset is in. I call on Frances Nicholson to resign as the Cabinet member responsible for this latest debacle."

Mr Lewis was appointed by a cross-party panel of councillors in 2013 and his appointment was then ratified by Full Council in May of that year. His contract was with the agency Penna and therefore SCC ended the contract on Friday with Penna, not direct with Peter Lewis. As an agency worker, the Council did not have to pay Peter for holiday or sick leave and on ending the contract, the Council will not make any further payment nor make any pension provision.


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