Letter from David Williams QC, Wycombe’s parliamentary candidate, to Bucks Free Press compares failures in Bucks CC child protection and the Victoria Climbie and Baby P Inquiries
The responses of Bucks CC Leader Martin Tett and Angela McPherson, Cabinet Member for Children’s Social Services are wholly inadequate given the damning criticism of the Ofsted report. Of particular concern are the conclusions in respect of children in need of protection. In 2003 Lord Laming reported on the death of Victoria Climbie who was tortured and murdered by her carers. Failings in social services, in particular a failure to allocate a social worker, the availability of experienced social workers, proper record keeping, adequate supervision and accountable leadership were identified as contributing to Victoria’s death. Lord Laming made recommendations to rectify those shortcomings and to seek to ensure children were adequately protected. In 2009 after Baby P (Peter Connelly) was beaten to death, Lord Laming provided a further report which again identified social services failings as contributing to his death. Key failings included a failure to give child protection issues the priority they deserve, social workers under too much pressure, lack of management supervision and accountability and emphasis on process and targets.
The Ofsted Report identifies many of these issues in relation to child protection in Bucks CC – 11 years on from the Climbie Report and 5 years on from Baby P. The failure to prioritise child protection, a failure to allocate cases, poor management and supervision, a focus on implementing a new system rather than on child protection and poor record keeping all contribute to children being at risk.
Neither Councillor Tett nor Councillor McPherson seem to acknowledge or understand that these failures put children’s lives at risk. Roughly 1 child a week is killed by their carers and poor social services performance is a feature in many.
Councillor Tett says that money has been pumped into these services and yet Bucks CC budget shows that despite spending £42.24m in 2013/14 (an overspend because of high demand) the budget set for 2014/15 appears to be only £39.96m. Bucks CC did not increase council tax for 4 years until introducing a 1.5% increase for the 2014/15 year. This was despite a £100m cut in central government funding.
It is hard to avoid the conclusion that budgetary restraint is being allowed to take priority over the proper recognition that child protection services must be adequately funded if they are not as Lord Laming said to be “a Cinderalla service”. Social workers, despite being much maligned, are undoubtedly doing their very best to protect children. To do this properly they need appropriate resourcing and accountable leadership. The evidence from the 2014/15 Budget shows that Bucks CC is failing on the first and the responses of Councillors Tett and McPherson speak for themselves on the second.
David Williams QC
Labour Party PPC for Wycombe
Barrister and Mediator