Letter from David Williams to Bucks Free Press
The latest response of Bucks CC Leader Martin Tett still fails to acknowledge the potentially lethal ramifications of the damning criticism of the Ofsted report into Children’s Services. 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 and adequate supervision and accountable leadership were identified as contributing to Victoria’s death. Lord Laming made recommendations 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 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 earlier said 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 was only £39.96m. Only now with the critical Ofsted report and the attendant publicity have Bucks CC’s Tory leaders belatedly recommended that children’s services are better resourced. Thank goodness that a child did not pay with their life for the sake of Tory penny pinching.
Surely one of the primary functions of local government is to protect the vulnerable. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that budgetary restraint was allowed to take priority over that duty and the proper recognition that child protection services must be adequately funded if they are not as Lord Laming said to be “a Cinderella 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. To date they appear to have had neither from Bucks CC.
David Williams QC
Labour Party PPC for Wycombe
Barrister and Mediator