A COUNCIL which has seen a drop in government funding in real terms of £42.4m since austerity started has been heralded for improvements to its children’s services despite the financial challenges it faces.

A full meeting of Darlington Borough Council saw the authority praised for its concerted efforts to stop placing children at risk, which Ofsted inspectors had concluded it was doing in 2015.

Inspectors found children had to wait too long for assessment and managers did not have “sufficient grip or oversight”.

“Elected members and the council’s chief executive have not been sufficiently challenging towards children’s services managers to assure themselves that children are safe,” their report said.

At the time Darlington MP Jenny Chapman said if the service didn’t improve, a situation as serious as the child sexual exploitation scandal in Rotherham could develop.

However, despite Ofsted recognising “considerable achievement” made by the council to turn around the struggling department last year, the watchdog found the children’s services in the borough still were not adequate, and so support and supervision was given by the Department for Education (DfE).

The authority’s children and young people portfolio holder Councillor Paul Cruddas told the meeting the DfE had ended its formal involvement with the council and had recognised the “strong and committed leadership, and a clear vision for delivering high quality services”.

He said an improvement plan was in place at the council which has lost 730 staff since 2010.

The meeting was told the DfE had also noted evidence “not only that the council have embedded improvements made during their intervention, but also that appropriate steps are being made to identify and address further areas of improvement”.

The council’s children and young people portfolio holder at the time of the previous Ofsted inspection, Councillor Cyndi Hughes congratulated the council’s staff and partner organisations for work to improve the policies, procedures and outcomes for children and young people in care who needed the authority’s help and protection.

She said: “It’s been a long and gruelling road for all of us. It’s demanded an input of substantial resources at a time when money has been extremely tight and it has demanded a change in our culture.

“The Department for Education has recognised the set change that has been achieved here in Darlington and our shared commitment to continuous improvement that safeguarding truly demands and deserves.”

The council’s children’s services director Suzanne Joyner has said the authority is now aiming for an outstanding rating.