Councillors and senior managers were yesterday blamed for failings in the social work service, including services for older people.

A highly critical report said that while inspectors recognised the difficulties providing services in the sparsely populated Highlands and found examples of good practice throughout the service, they discovered serious flaws among the support for the council's 1000 home carers.

Inspectors from the Scottish Executive's Social Work Inspection Agency said in their report that they met groups of carers of children, disabled people, and the elderly across Highland Council and consistently heard "strong views about poor performance" by the social work service.

They said: "Levels of dissatisfaction were particularly high in relation to transitions for young people with disabilities.

Carers were highly critical of lack of information, resources and choice. They criticised a lack of engagement by the social work service in relation to forward planning of transitions from school to further education, training and employment. Older parent carers were concerned about a lack of planning towards more independent living.

"We met some carers whose relationships with the social work service had deteriorated to the extent that they had almost no expectations in relation to receiving help and support. We note that many groups and individuals we met had no knowledge of the social work service's complaints procedure."

Relationships with carers across Highland were "particularly poor" and improvement in the quality of communication between the service at all levels and carers was needed. "We note that there was no carer's strategy in place during the period of our inspection and that an outline strategy had very recently been drafted," the report added.

Those who worked with the social work service as partners or stakeholders were also surveyed. Only 18% thought a structured service was provided which regularly kept in touch with those who use its services and their carers. They also had concerns over monitoring of cases. "Only one in five files that we read contained evidence of regular first line manager scrutiny. Only 2% contained evidence of periodic scrutiny by a senior manager."

Part of the problem has been the council's devolved structure. This meant councillors gave priority to local considerations over pan-Highland and senior officials could not influence elected members to take a more strategic approach causing "inefficient spending and under-developed services in some areas".

The report found the strategic leadership of Highland's social work only "adequate" with its strengths just outweighing its weaknesses.

Convener Councillor Sandy Park, who heads the SNP/Independent coalition which has formed Highland Council's first political administration, said: "We are clear that improvements can only be made by the council working together with NHS Highland, the Scottish Executive, and carers in the Highlands."

David Alston, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrat opposition group, said the report showed that changes were needed but "the administration so far doesn't have any policies and is unlikely to adopt the necessary strategic approach".