MP for Hornsey and Wood Green
I went with a Haringey deputation to meet with Lord Hill – the Schools Minister last week. In the deputation were: Cllr Lorna Reith (Haringey Executive Member for Children’s Services), David Lammy, Tottenham MP, Peter Lewis, Director of Children’s Services at Haringey and Tony Brockman from Haringey NUT.
This was a timely plea to the Government to push our case for the outcome of the two options in the recently completed consultation on funding formulas for our schools to be the ‘Hybrid’ option. To all those locally who know how long and how hard I and the Liberal Democrats have campaigned against Labour’s long standing unfair funding to Haringey – you know how important this is.
Apart from our usual LibDem petitions and email list - we were at the school gates getting people to respond to the consultation by the then Labour Government on funding. (A consultation they had been forced into by our campaign and others around the country where the unfairness in funding was now putting schools into deficit – and denying the children in those areas the teachers they needed). And clearly – the people in Haringey responded splendidly – with something like 1500 people letting the the new government know exactly how unfair the old Labour funding formula was and how much we need that money in Haringey with all the challenges we have. It had clearly been noted – the depth and volume of feeling from parents and teachers and all in Haringey!
In Haringey our children get £1300 less per head than neighbouring boroughs like Camden, Islington and Hackney. When I met the previous government Minister on this very outrageous inequality – even he admitted that Haringey with its £1300 diferential was the worst ‘cliffedge’ (difference between close neighbours) in the county.
Obviously – the new coalition government’s ‘pupil premium’ in the coalition agreement – where £2.5 billion will come on stream starting in the second year of government – and where the money follows the pupil with special needs or on free school meals (and which will benefit every single school in Haringey) will be a blessing. However, that will bring us in a lot of money – but equally it will bring money into those boroughs like Camden and Hackney too.
So first off I wanted to make sure that when that money comes on stream from the ‘pupil premium’ – Haringey is first in line for it! However, the meat of this meeting was about the results of the consultation on the funding formula – the funding formula that has for so long underfunded Haringey.
The ‘hybrid’ option will close some of the gap in our funding. We are £35million adrift every single year. The ‘hybrid’ option will move us half way towards closing the gap (estimate only).
We each made the case – very well I thought. And it was well-received. Lord Hill clearly got the message and the timing of this deputation was perfect as the decision is about to be made. He did seem receptive. So the case was well made – and now we have to keep everything crossed that we get our funding!
Opposition councillors have demanded an urgent review of Haringey Council’s foster care services after it was revealed today that a child was placed in the care of the family of bomb-plotter Abdulla Ahmed Ali in 2006.
Local Liberal Democrat MP, Lynne Featherstone, says that this is yet more evidence of a council in crisis and raises more questions over Haringey Council’s ability to look after children.
It also follows Haringey’s Ofsted report in July this year that said that Haringey Council was still failing to protect all vulnerable children adequately.
Lynne Featherstone MP comments:
“We knew that there is an on-going problem with Haringey Council’s ability to look after our children, but now we have new questions about Haringey Council’s ability to place children in safe and secure foster homes.
“We need answers now to ensure that no other child has been, or will be, in danger when they are placed in care.
“After the awful tragedy of Baby Peter and the clear failures made by Haringey Council, these new revelations show further evidence of the need for a root and branch review of Haringey Council’s Children’s Services that only a public inquiry can provide.”
Liberal Democrat councillors have written formally to the Chief Executive of Haringey Council, Ita O’Donovan, and Children’s Service chief, Peter Lewis, to demand assurances that no further mistakes by Children’s Social Services have been covered up.
Cllr Robert Gorrie, Haringey Liberal Democrat leader, comments:
“Haringey Council vowed during the Baby Peter tragedy that they would end the silence and cover up in Children’s Services, yet this shows a council still committed to a culture of secrecy.
“Who knew about this fiasco and was keeping it a secret and how many more cases of Haringey Labour failure do we not yet know about?”
The Ofsted Report on Haringey Council’s progress on child protection since the fall out after Baby P and since the installation of a new Director of Children’s Services was published this morning.
It makes miserable reading as the key findings are that the situation in Haringey Child Protection was even worse than we thought with a 400 case backlog. Either Haringey didn’t know how bad they were or they were hiding how bad they were – either way a terrifying prospect.
The report states: ‘Significant shortcomings remain which means that children and young people in Haringey are not yet consistently safeguarded.’
And goes onto say: ‘The Council has made limited progress overall in addressing the areas of weakness identified in the November 2008 joint area review … Capacity to improve within the Council and across the partnership is limited overall.’
Whilst the report rightly recognises the efforts that have been made by staff to improve the service and safeguard the borough’s children, the main message is that children and young people are still not safe and that progress is limited and the capacity to improve that situation is also rubbish.
Peter Lewis (new Director on very high salary) said it would take him three years to really turn Haringey around. However, this report would seem to indicate that he is not track – or at least a fast enough track – to do so.
I will be seeking a meeting with him – to find out why there has been such slow progress and what the issues are. Certainly there is a shortage of social workers – and they are not rushing to Haringey to help.
But I have to say if things don’t speed up in the next six months maximum – then Ed Balls is going to have to put Haringey into special measures. We cannot continue with our children not being safeguarded properly.
I went to the Haringey Strategic Partnership meeting last night particularly to have the opportunity to raise some of my ongoing concerns over the plans for child protection post Baby P. Peter Lewis, who took on the role after Sharon Shoesmith’s sacking, will present Haringey Council’s response / action plan to the hideously damning Joint Area Review report by OFSTED commissioned by Ed Balls.
The action plan is pages and pages of issues, identified leads and objectives and so on and so forth. As I said to the meeting – and the meeting is all the key players in Haringey, not just the council – I can’t judge the actions as the majority as they are about details which go beyond what I know of. However the three key issues I raised which as I said might be in the many pages but I couldn’t identify them were:
- firstly that much of what went wrong in Haringey was culture and attitude – and unless that changed all the proposed actions would not deliver a safer child protection regime
- secondly – that so very many people – including myself – warned Haringey that children were at risk and they took no notice. Were there measures that would ensure that warnings were heeded rather than rebutted and ignored?
- lastly, what measures were there that would ensure that professional advice and experience was not simply steamrollered into submission by management? Decisions made by the Safeguarding Children Board that led to Baby P’s death were by agreement – but my understanding is that concerns were raised, professional judgements and warning were given – but that the managerial lead simply intimidated or ignored those who raised concerns into submission.
The answers were not wholly satisfactory. On the first – yes promises that culture and attitude would be entirely different. Good – but haven’t seen the text that will go with the action plan to the Secretary of State today. On second one – the answer was about escalating the issues brought by staff to senior managerment. Given I went to the lead politician and the chief executive with my warnings and they ignored me – not convinced escalation is the safeguard we need. And on the third – well we will see!
This afternoon I had my first meeting with Peter Lewis – the new broom for Children’s Services brought in directly by the Secretary of State, Ed Balls, following the sacking of Sharon Shoesmith.
I am hopeful that someone with Peter’s extensive experience will make the changes necessary to give our children’s services the guidance, enthusiasm and improvements to make it within three years an examplar department. He certainly seemed completely committed to that aim .
Haringey has published its response to the urgent investigation by Ofsted commissioned by Ed Balls in the wake of the Baby P tragedy. It goes to Scrutiny Committee at Haringey shortly – and I will try and read it over the weekend.
From yesterday’s Evening Standard:
The man charged with turning around Haringey’s failing social services faced a string of critical reports in his previous job after two children died in cases of suspected abuse…
Schools Secretary Ed Balls appointed Mr Lewis 10 days ago praising his “excellent” reputation as director of children’s services in neighbouring Enfield.
But an investigation by the Standard has found social workers and health staff in Enfield were criticised over cases in which children died or were seriously harmed under his watch…
Lynne Featherstone, Liberal Democrat MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, said the cases raised concerns.
She said Mr Lewis’s salary, a large rise from Ms Shoesmith’s, raised expectations that he would be able to tackle the deep-rooted problems in Haringey.
“We expect a huge amount from Mr Lewis,” she said. “It would be appropriate to hear directly from him. We want to be reassured on how he handled these cases and how they came to light.”
You can read the full story here.