VULNERABLE children are at risk of harm due to serious failings by Swindon Borough Council, Ofsted inspectors have said.

The damning report, compiled after a two-day inspection of children’s services at the end of April, concluded that council social workers are consistently failing to identify children who are at risk of harm.

In a letter from Ofsted to David Haley, Swindon Borough Council’s director of children’s services, the inspectorate wrote: “Swindon’s children’s services were last inspected by Ofsted in 2014, when the overall effectiveness of services was judged to require improvement.

“Since then, the quality of decision-making when children are first referred for help or protection has declined, and there are significant weaknesses in the responses that children receive.”

Inspectors examined the council’s multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH) and found that “social workers in the MASH do not always identify risk and inspectors found some children at risk of harm”.

They also said that decisions made by social workers and managers were “not sufficiently swift” and that opportunities to intervene, both historically and recently, had been missed.

The inspection looked at how the council dealt with vulnerable children who need help and protection at the first point of contact.

Senior leaders, Ofsted said, were “not fully aware of the severity of weaknesses identified by inspectors during this visit”.

Ofsted also saw a number of cases where children were exposed to potential risk for too long without assessment.

In response, Councillor Carol Shelley, Labour’s spokesman for children’s services, said: “Clearly this is a very damning inspection report. I am extremely concerned that the inspectors have found that some children have been at risk of harm as a result of council failings.”

She slammed the Conservative administration for failing to report the problems and asked if they were even aware of them.

She added: “I would expect to see some quite dramatic changes to the way children’s services is delivered following this inspection report and look forward to meeting with the council director for children’s services in how he is going to deliver the necessary changes to bring our children’s services department back fit for purpose.”

Inspectors did report that “a well-targeted programme of improvement has begun” but that it is yet to provide a “safe, well-targeted and timely response to children”.

Councillor Mary Martin, the Conservative cabinet member for children’s services, who has only held the portfolio for a week, claimed Ofsted’s findings were “helpful” in the council’s bid to improve the service.

She said: “The issues raised were highlighted in our own detailed review and diagnostic of the service and we welcome Ofsted’s input and will act on their assessment that the resulting changes are not yet embedded.

“We are already working extremely hard to bring sustained improvement to the way the MASH operates and I am pleased Ofsted has highlighted that we have strong corporate support and have a thorough action plan in place.”

She stressed the huge challenges faced by the council, including the record numbers of children in care and the tough financial climate, and said the administration is committed to bringing about the “necessary improvements” required to children’s services.