Ofsted: Haringey didn't tell us the truth

I read front page in the Guardian yesterday that Christine Gilbert, Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, has come out publicly to say that Ofsted were lied to by officers in Haringey in terms of the information they provided when they inspected Haringey. Result – Ofsted gave Haringey three stars just weeks after Baby P’s death.

Well – I’m glad she said it. I’ve no doubt Haringey did present inaccurate information and was trying to pull the wool over Ofsted’s eyes – given they wanted three stars because the government hoops they have to jump through mean resources, money and political advantage all come from three stars.

However, as neatly as Ofsted wishes to put all the blame on Haringey, I would just like to point out the feebleness of that as an excuse for an inspection regime. Ed Balls has now moved to say basically these interim inspections are useless and Ofsted must do face-to-face inspections annually. But what on earth confidence can we have in any inspection regime given this failure? Surely the questions and examinations have to go deeper.

And last but not least in this dishonourable performance management system is the Government itself who set it up. Ed Balls is only too willing to look at the narrow focus of the social work and systems end – but not really so far said anything about the Government’s part in this devastating failure. It is the Labour Government who set up a performance management system with targets, tick boxes and gold stars on inspection. What bigger perverse incentive can you have in a rotten borough then to be allowed to present false information to achieve a false status? Come on Ed – look at your own part in all of this.

And today, news has broken that Ed Balls and Alan Johnson are launching a task force to change the practice, spread best practise and look at training of social workers. Yes – some of things are suggested may well be good so no problem with that or the task force – but the focus is still narrow. We need a proper public inquiry to look at all the issues that are much wider than just what happens in the departments themselves. As before – even the Government system of performance management is called into question.

The wider questions from the Baby P tragedy

I’ve got a piece over on the New Statesman blog:

There are wider issues untouched by Ed Balls’s short, sharp investigation.

For example – Sharon Shoesmith was in charge of education as well as child protection – following the recommendations of Lord Laming turned into legislation by the 2004 Children’s Act. It seemed a good and obvious idea at the time – stopping the gap through which children might fall if teachers didn’t communicate worries with social services. But it clearly didn’t work. Is this the failing just of staff in Haringey, or is there a deeper problem with the manner – or perhaps even concept – of merging the two? It’s not fashionable for politicians to say, “I don’t know”, but on this one I don’t. My mind is open – but I am sure we need to consider the issue carefully.

And what about inspections? Just before Victoria Climbie’s death outside inspectors gave Haringey a glowing report. Just as this time Haringey got a glowing report just before all the truth over Baby P’s death came tumbling out. Huge resources go in to inspections. Are they really being well used?

You can read the full piece here.

What to make of yesterday?

The day of reckoning when finally George Meehan paid the price for not listening, not heeding and not doing the job he promised to do after Victoria Climbie. I remember the breast-beating Council meeting back then – ‘this will never happen again’, ‘lessons must be learnt’ and ‘I personally will sit on the child protection committee’. Though no-one senior took responsibility and resigned.

Mr Meehan’s departure this time is, however, just one drop in this dreadful ocean. Liz Santry has gone because her position put her in the legally accountable position. But neither went until the depth of the failings in Haringey were blazed across the country as Ed Balls read his statement – ending the hopes they had of hanging on. There was nowhere to go once they knew the damnation contained in the Ofsted report.

But remember, only last Monday at Haringey’s Full Council meeting, every one of the Labour councillors backed George Meehan and Liz Santry – and that’s part of the problem too. And why I say that Labour in Haringey has lost sense of right and wrong. Over-politicised, each move only to ensure their political future. That is an issue that bears scrutiny too.

Anyway – in the cold light of the morning after the night before – I am thinking that Ed Balls lived up to his name – and did the necessary and did it well.

I might and do disagree with him on the degree of holding safely by an outside team and don’t understand why he is giving any sort of time lag before deciding next June whether to take the Children’s department away from Haringey. I think he would have been better to put it into full special measures and then give it back slowly as and when Haringey has proved itself changed.

And the other area of disagreement is around the need for a public inquiry – which I still believe is absolutely vital to get at all the issues, wider issues, virtually untouched by this short sharp investigation. This was right for the short term and the urgent situation – but in the longer term there are sheafs of unanswered questions. More of that later.

For now I just want to really pay tribute to the people of this country, whose outpouring of grief and anger stoked the fires, and to the media whose relentless pursuit through broadcast and press left no place to hide.

And to all those in the Commons who kept the spotlight on Baby P and forced the issue. Without this force majeureHaringey’s Labour council would have bunkered down and simply hoped to let the storm pass – like last time – and then in a few years time we would have been here again wondering how it could happen three times in the same borough.

The verdict on Haringey Council

So – the report finds Haringey Council guilty – and then some. I have never seen such a damning and devastating criticism of an authority as this litany of failure – both systemic and personal, and at every level and more or less in every agency. But particularly singled out for special damnation – Haringey Council.

So – given all that, what an earth is Ed Balls doing commissioning more reports and waiting until next June before removing Haringey Children’s services from council administration? Yes more information may be necessary. Yes – Balls is right to put in John Coughlan to lead the department back to health. But we need children in Haringey who are at risk to be held safe in full special measures and only given back to Haringey itself as the department is changed, new management structures put in, and staff either re-trained, sacked or exonerated depending on their part and culpability.

When and as Haringey proves itself worthy of taking control of Children’s Services – then and only then – should they get the department back. They have to prove themselves first.

As to the resignations of George Meehan and Liz Santry – it’s a shame it took until they publicly had nowhere to go in the face of such extreme criticism before they finally acknowledged their responsibility.

And none of this sadly goes to the heart of the rotten culture in Haringey which is secretive, arrogant, rank-closing and abuses power. Lord knows I have been shouting this from rooftops for long enough. Now at least I have Ed Balls and the Government shouting the same thing with me!

Baby P report goes to Ed Balls today

So the report from Ed Ball’s urgent investigation arrives on his desk today. I expect it to be hard-hitting and demonstrate failures at many levels both systemic and personal. I don’t know whether he plans to make a statement on it right away or wait – but I do know what I want to hear from him.

First and foremost, is a strategy that effectively puts Haringey into special measures where the best social services chief and key other posts go in and hold Haringey safe whilst the changes that are needed are put into place.

We need good managers and social workers within the department to feel supported and we need to attract the very best to Haringey and imbue the department with the zeal and commitment it needs. The children who rely on social services must have a secure base to build from.

In terms of what happens to the staff involved in the tragedy – that is a matter for employment terms to take its course – be that exoneration, disciplinaries or sacking. That is not a matter for me.

Secondly, and part of that new start, is that the two leadership roles identified both by Lord Laming in his findings after Victoria Climbie and put into legislation as the accountable, buck stop here roles – Director of Children’s Services and Lead Politician for Children’s Services – must resign.

We can have no new start, nor rebuild confidence in Haringey whilst those who were in command and on whose watch Baby P died are still in place. Nor should there be any pay off for failure.

Last time no-one senior went – only the social worker at the end of the food chain took the blame for the lot. That is why Laming put in the importance of buck stops here positions and why the Government put it into legislation. Credit to Labour for implementing that recommendation. Now let’s see it mean something.

Lastly – there will almost certainly still be a need for a public inquiry. So many threads and issues cannot possibly be touched by a two week investigation – nor can they be examined properly by Lord Laming’s Review which takes in the whole country.

For example, what part did budget play? Why did children taken into care in Haringey drop so much compared to the rest of the country when Baby P was being visited all those times? What use is a desk research inspection that awards three stars – but has no knowledge of what is really going on in a children’s department? Is our inspection regime sufficient? What part does the award system play when the authority in answer to Baby P’s death thinks that this means they have done well? Did Haringey even tell the inspectors? And following procedures and ticking boxes – the perfect paper trail to a dead baby – is that a good regime to hold children safe?

And what about the health team outsourced to Great Ormond Street? Who is accountable when the view is that this is not the problem of the Primary Care Trust (PCT) now that it has been outsourced. Who is accountable? Why did so many doctors leave that team or go off sick?

I could go on and on – but I hope you get the point.

Reading the Baby P Serious Case Review

Well, I read the full Serious Case Review into the death of Baby P at the end of the week. I was given sight of this document following the ho ha when Ed Balls appeared to use the Information Commissioner for cover, saying others could not be allowed sight of the review – and then the Information Commissioner went public clearly not happy with being used in this way. Net result – several MPs, myself included, were allowed to see the report.

Access was given on ‘privy council terms’ – political speak for promising to keep the contents confidential, so I can say nothing of what I have read. The reading was done on my own, in an empty room with one table and one one chair and one copy of said document marked ‘confidential’. I sat alone there for two hours. You are not allowed to make notes of its contents – but you are allowed to note your impressions.

What I can say is that having read the document I am even more of the opinion that it would be in the public interest for it to be published – obviously with some parts anonymized and with a tiny – very tiny – bit of editing of any personal information around the family.

Otherwise – how will all those who have an interest or experience or knowledge or expertise be able to judge Ed Balls action when the investigative report comes in on Monday? That report he has said he will publish – but surely the wider audience can only benefit from understanding how resonant the original document is and was.

To this end – I, David Laws (Liberal Democrat Shadow to Ed Balls) and Michael Gove (Conservative Shadow) wrote to Ed Balls at the end of last week asking him to publish the full Serious Case Review. He has since written back to say no.

Mr Balls’s key rationale for his refusal is that a Serious Case Review is for lessons to be learned. He says that if such documents were to be published – then those who contribute to them might feel nervous about doing so in the future and not talk or give their information freely. Utter bunkum!

Far from being a danger, the light of public scrutiny should be an essential safeguard to ensure that these reviews are carried out properly. Because – quite frankly – these reviews are barely ‘independent’ as they are commissioned by the Safeguarding Children board – in this case chaired by Sharon Shoesmith, one of the very people whose own actions are up for questioning. The ‘independent’ person commissioned on this one has already gone public on the fact that he wasn’t given any independent access to people or documents and that the report went to the sub-committee (chaired by Ms Shoesmith) something like five times for ‘correction’.

So public scrutiny should be welcomed, not feared. As we know already that public scrutiny doesn’t put people off saying what happened and their role in it. They did for Laming’s public inquiry and they did in court and as their jobs depend on it. So you should say goodbye to that old myth, ‘we can only find out the truth if we keep it secret’ Mr Balls.

I rate that old chestnut along with the ‘shhhhhhh don’t say anything brigade’ who keep wailing that this will put off decent social workers coming to Haringey. Nooooo – what will put decent, good, hard-working social workers off coming to Haringey is the constant poor management, cover ups, closing of ranks and appalling leadership – or lack of.

So – publish – and be damned. Whoops – that must be what they are afraid of!

Why Polly Toynbee is wrong

Tonight will see the Haringey Liberal Democrat Council Group’s motion of no confidence in Haringey’s political leadership debated – well that is if the Labour Members don’t talk it out by spending so long on other things it is not reached. That is their usual tactic in Haringey – although they should be utterly ashamed if they try that one. Their other tactic (and I remember only too well as Leader of the Opposition on Haringey for five years) was to put an amendment negating everything in the Lib Dem motion and saying how wonderful they are. They wouldn’t dare this time – I hope.

Leaving the politics aside for the moment, over the weekend it because clear that Ed Balls has decided to allow five MPs (including myself) to have sight of the Serious Case Review in full version. I have been calling for it to be published (redacted – i.e. with personal or sensitive information blocked out) and I think the Information Commissioner has said that is possible. But am not sure and will check. If I do see it it will be on Privy Council basis – i.e. that I can never reveal what it says – which may be difficult. It won’t be difficult if the urgent investigation has looked at it and investigated the key issues and Ed Balls takes swift and stringent action upon receiving it. Any less – and I will continue fighting at full blast.

I have had so many helpful contributions from those in the profession, people who have had personal experience of Haringey from the staff side. I hope the inspectors are going to talk to those who have recently left Haringey Social Services – as I am told that they often leave because of the way things are run.

I note the Polly Toynbee brigade’s feeble attempt to protect Labour Haringey by rattling sabres about not slagging them off otherwise social workers won’t come. But Polly – they won’t come because bad management has left them clearly vulnerable and children unsafe – not because that is now out in the wide world. What Haringey needs is a Social Services department that can start again – enabling social workers to do their very best – not just jump to fill in forms for fear.

For goodness sake – at one of my surgeries, staff were literally afraid to speak to me. I know staff have all been warned by email not to talk about Baby P – well that may be a very successful, information hiding corporate approach – but it hardly fills me with confidence about a change in culture and openness at Haringey. That’s what needs changing – and change won’t come from hiding away the problems.

We need a fresh start in Haringey

Ed Balls made a statement to the House of Commons on Thursday about the Baby P case and the actions he was taking. Mr Balls was able to say to most questions essentially – I will wait until I get the report from the urgent investigation I have commissioned and then I will decide and act.

Understandable – except none of us have had access to the Serious Case Review full document. In response to requests by myself, David Laws (Lib Dem spokesperson on Children and Schools) and Michael Gove (Conservative spokesperson) Ed Balls has said that the Information Commissioner has ruled that such a document cannot be published – though as Iain Dale reports, that doesn’t seem to be the full story.

My tack, when Madam Deputy Speaker called me to ask my question in response to Ed Balls statement, was to call for three things to happen so that Haringey can have a new, fresh start – which is what we desperately need.

Firstly that those accountable must go – and the Children’s Act 2004 names those key accountable posts. It came into being because of Victoria Climbie’s death and Lord Laming’s subsequent report – so we should make sure the lesson learnt then is followed now.

Secondly – that Haringey be put under special measures so that we can be held safe whilst things are being resolved.

And thirdly that there would still be a need for a public inquiry because the two week urgent investigation cannot possibly touch on the wider issues. I give you two examples. Firstly, budgetary pressures. It became clear from the figures about how many children were taken into care in Haringey before and after Baby P’s death that Haringey was reducing the numbers of children being taken into care whilst Baby P was being visited all those times. Directly after (and part of which could be a natural reaction) the figures shot up. Also John Hemming, a Lib Dem MP colleague who specialises in this area, had also found figures on reductions because of budgetary pressures. So Haringey’s decisions around budgets needs scrutiny for starters.

A second example of an area needing wider scrutiny – what part did the fragile state of the health team charged with looking after health needs of children at risk in Haringey play? After all, the paediatrician who failed to diagnose Baby P’s broken back was a locum in that very department. A post deleted, the key post of ‘named doctor’ who has particular responsibility in Child Protection cases. £400,000 of cuts required by the PCT (Primary Care Trust). Doctors leaving because of unhappiness with management. An unbelievably high level of sickness. A high level of bullying found by the last Health Care Commission inspection. All in all – a service that needs looking at. Hopefully some of this will be being pursued anyway by the urgent investigation team – but there are wider issues to go in to.

I did go personally to see the Chair of Haringey PCT with all these concerns. I was told – this is no longer the concern or business of the PCT. They had ‘outsourced’ their health team to Great Ormond Street Hospital. So – in my limited research as to why such an important local service would be outsourced – this is what I have been told thus far. Great Ormond Street want to become a Foundation Trust Hospital. In order to do so it has to demonstrate ‘community outreach’. Great Ormond Street had none and no experience in that area. Hence it negotiated with Haringey to take on that department. Well – if that’s all the case, is that what should have happened?

And as I said to Ed Balls – there is a wealth of information that people are contacting me about that needs to come to the inspection and that’s why we need a public inquiry. And we need a new start with new faces at the top – so that everyone involved in child protection in Haringey is imbued with the necessary zeal and support to make that fresh start and to make our vulnerable children as safe as they can be.

Is information being kept from the Baby P investigation?

The inspection ordered by Ed Balls following the death of Baby P is looking at the local authority, health services and police. I’ve received a tip off from someone working in one of these agencies about how the visit of the inspectors to their staff team had been handled.

The reason they rang me was that they were concerned that the inspectors were seemingly allowing this team to present the picture they wanted. The manager chose which staff would meet the inspects – and prepped them prior to the visit. No-one else was allowed to speak to the inspectors.

My caller felt passionately that the services were being allowed by the inspectors to manage the inspection so that staff who had voiced concerns in the past did not get to meet the inspectors.

I’ve raised this issue with Ed Balls, who assures me that his inspectors are excellent. Well, I hope so – but it doesn’t fully reassure me as so often in the past I’ve heard the excuse, “it’s all ok, we know what we’re doing” when that turns out not to be the case. So – let’s hope the inspectors are as good as said, but one to keep an eye on.

Baby P investigation update

Yesterday saw Ed Balls (Secretary of State for Children) at his request. He was basically offering me the opportunity of a chat given my concerns over Baby P. It was helpful to be able to have this discussion and after the meeting I wrote to Ed Balls to formally raise several issues.

This includes an issue over who will get to speak to those investigating Haringey. I have had a number of people who have contacted my office wishing to bring their concerns about Haringey Children’s Services and the associated agencies involved to the attention of the inspectors. These are people who work for the services and therefore have direct and pertinent knowledge. The information such people could provide would be invaluable in allowing the “rigorous scrutiny” that the Secretary of State demanded in his letter to the inspectors. I ask Mr Balls to indicate how they can make their concerns known to the inspectors confidentially before the end of the review. I understand the inspectors will be leaving Haringey on Friday.

At my meeting with Beverley Hughes (Minister for Children) yesterday she suggested that if I wished the inspectors to look at the political leadership issues I should raise that directly with the inspectors. My particular issue is that role of the individuals named in Section 18 and 19 of the Children’s Act 2004, which places requirements on the political leadership of councils. However, having then spoken to the inspectors, they have refused to stray beyond the remit laid out in the Secretary of States letter describing the terms of reference for the investigation.

This was a bit of a surprise as it contradicted what Beverly Hughes had said to me the day before. She seemed very genuine when we talked – so I don’t think this was intended.

So – I have asked Ed Balls if he would let it be known to the inspectors that he would like them to review those named in statute as being responsible for the services.

Last night was the first public meeting with Labour councillors since the verdict from the Baby P trial. George Meehan (Labour Leader of Haringey Labour of Haringey Council) has been entirely absent since the conviction. But last night there was nowhere to hide – and so he finally, after prompting by Robert Gorrie (leader of the Liberal Democrat group) made an apology:

In his statement, Mr Meehan said he would wait for the outcome of the review before commenting in detail on the case. But he added: “There is no failure to apologise in full by this council, we do so unreservedly.” Lib Dem councillors asked him to to offer his personal apology, to which Mr Meehan replied: “I have no problem saying I personally apologise.”