Bradford Council whistleblower says staff leaving children's services en masse due to 'toxic' working environment

A whistleblower claims the department tasked with protecting vulnerable children in Bradford is failing because social workers are leaving in droves to escape a “toxic working environment”.

Neil Terry, who worked as an administrator for the department for six years, said stressed and burnt-out staff and being mistreated by their managers and every complaint is met with “denial, ignorance and incompetence”.

The former Unite the Union representative, who said he was sacked in November 2020, has been calling on council leaders to listen to concerns raised by employees and take action for several years.

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Bradford Council was stripped of control over its children’s services department earlier this year, after a Government appointed commissioner found it does not have the capacity or capability to make the improvements that are needed.

Bradford City Hall

The commissioner also highlighted a high turnover of staff at the department, which has been rated inadequate by Ofsted since 2018, as there were 124 social worker vacancies.

It spent £17.4m on agency social workers in 2020/21 and currently spends around £1.7m a month on temporary workers.

The Department for Education has said a not-for-profit trust, with an independent chair and board of directors, will take charge of the department.

Mr Terry, who said he suffered with mental health issues while working at the council and nearly took his own life, shared the results of a 2020 staff survey (504 participants).

It showed 46 per cent of staff said their working environment is never or rarely a positive one and almost 27 per cent said they were likely to leave if there were no improvements

He has also published 65 pages of emails he has sent to council leaders and MPs representing Bradford since July 2021, which highlight a range of complaints made by employees.

One newly qualified social worker, who had taken time off sick due to a suspected heart attack, decided to quit after a manager asked her: “How on earth did you pass your qualifications?” in front of her colleagues and refused to apologise.

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Another employee left after they were investigated for fraud, due to false allegations they had claimed £9.40 on expenses without a valid reason, even though it had not been paid out.

"Children’s Services is a complex service but the issues and the solutions are really simple, but none of the directors, senior managers, the chief executive or the council leader have understood it,” he wrote.

“They have boasted about how much money they have thrown at the department since 2018 but they are unable to say why that money hasn’t led to any improvements and that is because they have failed to understand the issues and failed to listen to people who are telling them where the solution lies.

“The solution is to treat staff well, treat them with dignity and respect and make the department where staff want to work – a place where staff wake up in the morning and look forward to coming to work rather than waking up and dreading the day ahead.”

In another email, he added: “The failures in Children’s Services rest entirely with the council leadership - both politically and corporately because they have consistently failed to heed warnings, failed to address issues and also failed to take time to understand the issues.”

Marium Haque, Director of Children’s Services, said the council has been working hard to make the necessary improvements.

She added: “Our most recent Ofsted monitoring visit in February 2022 identified that whilst there are challenges that still remain and that the new leadership team are committed to addressing, there is evidence that progress is being made in some areas and this is a positive reflection on the work of staff and partners.

“We thank them for their dedication and ongoing commitment to the children and young people of Bradford.”