A mayor has rejected claims that political leaders had been “kept in the dark” over failings in children’s services.

In January, a damning Ofsted report revealed that children’s services at Middlesbrough Council had “deteriorated” since 2017 and there were “serious and widespread failures”.

On Monday a meeting of the Children and Young People’s Social Care and Services Scrutiny Panel heard claims that political leaders had not been informed about the scale of the problems by officers.

But that claim was refuted by Middlesbrough Mayor, Andy Preston, at a meeting of the full council which called by Labour Group leader Cllr Matt Storey to look into the council’s failings.

Introducing the meeting, Cllr Storey said: “Vulnerable children and families in need of the most critical support and how we provide that support is an issue that speaks to our own shared humanity.

“How do we secure safe loving homes for children in Middlesbrough?

“I would hope that in response to this inspection report we all unite and work together to answer that question and turn this situation around.”

That sentiment was roundly accepted by all members from political parties as an unusual outbreak of peace broke out at the often angrily disagreeing council.

Deputy Mayor, Antony High, said: “Firstly I would like to thank Cllr Storey for bringing this extraordinary meeting to the chamber, I think it is right and it is proper.

“There is nothing more significant than the safety of the children of Middlesbrough so I really appreciate the opportunity to put it in to debate for all parties and all groups to share their concerns and ask detailed questions.”

But Cllr Jon Rathmell, leader of Middlesbrough Independent Councillors Association, wasn’t in the mood to play ball.

“One thing that does concern me is the other briefings we had last week,” he said.

“It was acknowledged and admitted that there were systemic management failings from the top of this authority down.”

He added: “We discovered that the executive had been treat like mushrooms and kept in the dark, only being told what officers wanted them to know.”

But, rejecting Cllr Rathmell’s claim, Middlesbrough Mayor, Andy Preston, said: “I think there’s a false premise in there where you’re saying officers had misled or kept people in the dark – that wasn’t said.

“What has happened and what has been articulated from every side is that some officers got it completely wrong and the information they provided was lacking.

“But never anywhere has anybody admitted or conceded there was an attempt to hide, keep in the dark, mislead or anything like that.

“We need to squash that right now because it’s nasty and it’s an attempt to smear people – so we’ve got to stop that.

“If you’re asking how we’re going to guarantee better information going forward I think what we need to do beef up our corporate parenting board – we need a cross party group.”

He added: “What we need for that is for everyone to unite, for some people to ditch habits of a lifetime – causing trouble and trying to find mischief – and get behind the children of this town and give them a better future.”