FAILINGS in services provided to children in Cumbria with special education needs and disabilities are under fire.

It follows a report which found Government reforms brought in five years ago had been ‘too slow’ to be introduced in the county.

Services in Cumbria are ‘highly variable’ with parents having ‘lost faith and trust,’ according to a report by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission.

It found ‘significant areas of weakness’ across Cumbria County Council and the clinical commissioning groups for Morecambe Bay and North Cumbria.

Cllr Ben Shirley, of the opposition Conservatives, questioned the Labour and Lib Dem-run authority about the report at a full meeting in Kendal on Thursday.

He called on Cllr Sue Sanderson, the cabinet member for schools, to ‘accept responsibility’ and asked what she was doing to ‘restore’ public confidence.

Cllr Shirley, who represents Dalton North, told the meeting: “First our children’s services were rated inadequate and now our SEND provision.

“In the light of this report would the cabinet member kindly enlighten us as to what she intends to do about the significant weaknesses highlighted?”

Ulverston-based Cllr Sanderson said many councils received worse verdicts and that the council’s own evaluation had picked up on the problems.

Cllr Sanderson, who represents Cartmel, said she had met with the CQC in London and the council had ‘good relationships’ with the health trusts.

They now planned to ‘move forward’ by working with the Department for Education and the NHS. Six working groups had been established to explore the issues.

Cllr Sanderson said: “If I could remind people, is not just the county council, it’s two health trusts as well. That is one of the complications because actually, you could work your socks off and get everything perfect and have a health trust that isn’t performing very well and you have immediately got an issue. The decisions and the criticisms are of all those organisations, not just one.”

“We want to improve, why would you not?” she said. “I’m sorry, I know people hate me mentioning it, but the funding is not there.”

The meeting heard that John MacIlwraith – the council director with overall responsibility for the section was departing after 11 years.

Mr MacIlrwaith, who oversaw a turnaround of childrens services in the county, was leaving to join Sheffield City Council.

Council chief executive Katherine Fairclough paid tribute to his work and reputation and told councillors he would be ‘a real loss’.