ATTEMPTS to improve Somerset's "inadequate" children's protection services are being hampered by problems recruiting high-quality social workers, the county council claims.

The authority has made some progress since being warned last November that it had a year to implement a raft of improvements or face ‘stronger intervention’ from the Department for Education.

But an interim report says some areas are still not at the level they need to be by the end of the improvement notice period outlined following an OFSTED inspection.

The news follows the County Gazette story highlighting how interim director Peter Lewis and his deputy Kate Lovell, who were brought in to turn the department around, cost the council £318,500 and £275,000 respectively in annual pay and fees.

The payments were branded ‘astonishing’ and ‘disappointing’ by opponents and reader David Orr said: “He could well be earning his super salary for several years to come judging by the report.”

But Cllr Linda Vijeh said: “Mr Lewis is totally committed to turning around the welfare and education of all children in this county to a point where we can all start to be proud.

“It has taken some time to put the necessary measures in place, but slowly we are beginning to reap the rewards of his influence.”

The report says Somerset is ‘making progress’, though it is ‘still at the early stages of its improvement journey’.

An officer report to county councillors says the DfE “broadly confirms the positive progress we have made”, though “it also confirms those matters where we feel there is still some way to go in securing the position we wish to be in by the end of the improvement notice period”.

It adds: “Issues around the further improvement in quality of work are inextricably linked with recruitment issues. It is extremely hard to secure permanent staffing of the right calibre and, notwithstanding the unwelcome rise in the number of locum staff we employ, it is proving almost as hard to secure social workers at all.”

A council spokesman said: “We have firm plans in place, and are moving in the right direction and at a pace designed to secure progress over the longer term. We still have work to do and are working hard to make continued improvements.”

Among the negative issues identified in the original report were not all vulnerable children getting help quickly enough, managers not checking staff work well enough, and children on a protection plan not always visited by the same social worker.