The Government troubleshooter appointed to oversee Birmingham's failing child protection services said he did not realise the problems were so deeply ingrained.
Department for Education commissioner Lord Norman Warner said issues with staff recruitment, poor quality work and the failure to deliver change had persistently "held back the council's children's social care department for more than a decade" – despite multiple inquiries and reorganisations.
He said it had happened whichever party had been in control and warned there is no political capital to be made from the crisis.
"There is nothing to be proud of," he said.
He explained that he was sure further reorganisations were not the answer and added: "On the whole, they make a bad situation worse."
But the commissioner, whose 12-month contract ends on March 31, said he was seeing signs of improvement at last.
"Children in Birmingham are safer, not as safe as we would want them to be, but they are safer than they were 12 months ago," he said.
The former Labour health minister attributed this improvement to the focus placed on children's services, including a £9 million budget increase this year and a further £21 million increase to follow from April.
Children's services is now one year into a three-year improvement plan and he said that the council leadership "has got to stick to it".
Lord Warner, addressing the council's children's services scrutiny committee this week, said that he was compiling his final report for the Education Secretary, and expects his contract to be extend for couple of months until the incoming Government has looked at it after the general election.
He added that although thus far he had received no feedback on his progress reports he is operating on the assumption the Department for Education is satisfied with progress.
He told the committee that a major cause for concern remained the recruitment and retention of experienced social workers, those 'with a few years on the clock'.
Too many have gone freelance to take advantage of a national shortage of staff and the council is now over reliant on agency workers to fill vacancies despite its best efforts. He said that such a high reliance on agency staff was 'not the right way to conduct business'.
He added: "The critical thing is that Birmingham has a better offer for recruiting and retaining staff. Birmingham has got to project itself as a great place to work and live if you want to get good social workers."