FURTHER calls have been made to reinstate children’s centres following a “damning” Ofsted report that said Swindon Borough Council was failing to protect vulnerable children.

Earlier this week, Ofsted reported that social workers are repeatedly failing to identify children who are at risk of harm.

Inspectors said that opportunities to intervene had been missed and that the quality of decision-making when children are first referred for help or protection “has declined” since the last inspection of children’s services in 2014.

As a result, renewed calls have been made by the Swindon Labour Group for the Conservative administration to reverse the controversial decision to close the town’s children’s Sure Start centres.

Coun Carol Shelley, Labour’s spokesman for children’s services, said: “Following Ofsted’s very worrying findings, I really do think the Conservative administration needs to review the strategy with children’s services and see whether Sure Start centres need to be brought back.

“Children’s centres would provide a hub within our communities to work with parents, and, if run properly, could be used to identify vulnerable children who may be in need of protection. This is what Ofsted said in their findings has been lacking with the council.”

The inspection, undertaken over two days in late April, focussed on how the council dealt with vulnerable children who need help and protection at the first point of contact.

And the subsequent report has once again placed the value of children’s centres high on the political agenda.

In 2014, the council agreed to consult on proposals to close children’s centres in order to achieve savings of more than £700,000.

It was claimed that the centres were not reaching the town’s most vulnerable and a new strategy had to be drawn up to address that.

But Labour has now claimed that the recent Ofsted report is proof that the strategy is not working.

Coun Shelley added: “I will be writing to Ofsted asking for the organisation to formally inspect the children’s services department again in the near future. I would hope the new cabinet member would join with me in requesting this.”

Coun Mary Martin, the Conservative member responsible for children’s services, has only held the portfolio for the past week when she took over from previous incumbent Coun Fionuala Foley.

Sources have hinted that Coun Foley was relieved of the portfolio as a direct result of the Ofsted report. But council leader David Renard yesterday dismissed the suggestion, insisting the decision to change portfolios was Coun Foley’s alone.

He said: “Coun Foley had indicated several months ago that she desired a new portfolio. Being responsible for all the borough’s children is actually one of the most demanding jobs any local councillor can take on.”

Addressing Labour’s demand that a new approach to children’s centres be taken, Coun Renard said: “We know that the Labour Group uses children’s centres only as a political tool; first, because in their budget amendment they only proposed one centre for the whole borough and, second, because they only proposed offering a tax-payer subsidised stay and play service.”

He accused the opposition of “consistently voting against children’s interests” by refusing to countenance spending £600,000 over three years to help schools raise attainment and by voting against the extra money in this year’s budget.

He added: “As a council, we will work with Ofsted, our LGA peers, and professional officers to address all the issues raised by the recent focused visit.

“We are working through a programme to increase our partnership working with schools, the police, and the health services to ensure that meaningful solutions are provided to all children at risk.”

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