Panorama on Baby P

Trailers for tonight’s Panorama on Baby P (BBC1, 8:30pm) point to how the police advised Haringey not to return Baby P. Haringey went against that advice – and then the police apparently did an about-face and agreed with them.

I think this probably points to one of the problems that will be uncovered in a public inquiry – that ultimately those who sit in partnership on the Safeguarding Children Board – i.e. the local authority, the health and police agencies psychologically (and for safety perhaps) find that they ultimately have to agree amongst themselves. It means the focus can become, “what’s the minimum we can all agree on?”

However, Laming rightly made it quite clear in his recommendations post Victoria Climbie, that the central focus, the eternal focus, the over-riding focus for anyone coming in contact with the child – must be the child.

He advises the use of critical faculties and judgement and to ensure for themselves that they are satisfied that everything is in order – not to listen to anyone else. Or rather – they can listen to what parents or carers or other adults say – but they need to hold their own council and judgement directly focused on the child.

So – what occurs to me – is that sitting together on this Safeguarding Children Board – perhaps they acquire a group mentality where decisions are agreed. This would be normal – but in this type of board – perhaps this is exactly the wrong approach?

Where difference occurs as Panorama says did occur between police advice and Haringey Council – then simply conceding for sake of unanimity is not the answer. No one can let an inner voice that says that any part of the decision-making is wrong go unheeded.

It is difficult – and maybe it is that the local authority has ultimate say – but when the authority is as bad as Haringey is – then the dangers are too immense.

Why do I say Haringey is bad? Because it is coming to light every day that passes just how many times people tried to warn them of the dangers to children in this borough. We know how Haringey Council has been responding to warnings about how it was looking after children: for all the good work done by many front line staff, at the most senior levels the reaction to concerns and warnings has been one of delays, hostility, failures to act and unwillingness to accept responsibility.

Now we know that the police, the grandmother, the opposition politicians – almost everyone took their concerns to Haringey.

Ed Balls has said he is angry. Ed Balls has said he will take whatever action is necessary. When the report from the urgent investigation he has ordered lands on his desk – he will face the real trial of a politician. For it is clear and becoming clearer each day that there have been systemic and personal failings – particularly by the political and officer leadership in Haringey as well as those others in the frame. If he really takes the action that is necessary – he will be a politician really fit for his office.

Today is Questions to Mr Balls as Secretary of State for Education – and if I manage to catch Mr Speaker’s eye – the questions today need to be about the terms of reference of the investigation he has ordered. Who has drafted the terms of reference? Will it include reviewing the conduct of the political leadership (a councillor – the lead member – is named in the Children’s Act of 2004 as responsible – so her conduct must be examined). Will the findings of the inquiry by Ofsted etc be made public? Will they publish the Serious Case Review in full? Will the findings of the investigation be made public? Will the investigation have any interaction with or input from the public or service users? Many, many questions…

Two blog posts from others that are well worth a read on this topic:

  • From Neil Williams, who was leader of the Haringey Liberal Democrat group at the time of Baby P’s death – and has written about how Haringey tried to keep him quiet when he raised concerns.
  • From Alix Mortimer – on how the anger and frustration and horror over Baby P’s death can be used for good.

Inspectors praised Haringey just weeks before Baby P's death

Today’s Evening Standard:

GOVERNMENT inspectors gave Haringey’s social services a clean bill of health just weeks after the death of Baby P, the Standard can reveal.

The council’s children and young people’s services chief Sharon Shoesmith received a glowing report from Ofsted in a report written by an inspector who had been a senior Haringey official. Inspectors led by Juliet Winstanley, who worked under Ms Shoesmith, congratulated her former boss’s department on providing “a good service for children” and working well with police to tackle domestic violence. The praise came despite accusations that Haringey failed to pass on all relevant documents to officers investigating Baby P’s death.

Now the same watchdog has been sent in by Children and Schools Secretary Ed Balls to find out why the baby was left to die. The revelations will raise fears that the new Ofsted investigation could be tainted…

[Ofsted said] The study was “a paper-based exercise and not an in-depth inspection”.

“There are major differences between the thorough inspection we are currently leading in Haringey and last year’s review.

“Looking at policies, procedures and paperwork gives part of the picture, but cannot of itself safeguard vulnerable children like Baby P.”

Lynne Featherstone, Liberal Democrat MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, said she had “no confidence” in Ofsted’s new investigation.

She described Ms Winstanley’s report as “quite extraordinary”.

This all raises yet another set of questions we need answers to.

Baby P: Haringey apologises

Just seen Haringey’s apology for what they did not do to save Baby P. It would have been so much better if they had made one on day one, and not had that defensive, arrogant – aggressive even – attitude initially.

So that’s something. However, it doesn’t change the position on the senior politicians and councillors. Now Ed Balls has ordered an urgent investigation into what on earth is going on in Haringey then – if there are significant failings found (and how can there not be?) – at that point I would hope that those would do the decent thing

In terms of what comes next then Ed Balls has said he will take whatever action is necessary following this urgent investigation – and I think that we may need special measures to take over Haringey’s services for children. I believe a full public inquiry will then still be needed to get to the bottom of the full range of issues raised.

Baby P inquiry – a good first step

Very briefly as rushing from interview to interview today – but wanted to blog that I welcome the announcement of an inquiry into Baby P’s death. I think it’s a good first move by the government – and a very swift response – though as I said in Parliament yesterday, I suspect it won’t be enough to tell us all that we need to know about what went wrong.

When this investigation reports, Ed Balls (the relevant Cabinet minister) has said if he is not satisfied he will put Haringey Council into what is essentially special measures. I think that is appropriate.

The reluctance to apologise goes to the core of it. There has been tremendous defensiveness from Haringey Council – thinking more about the council than the child.

There is much more we also need to address – such as why Lord Laming’s inquiry into Climbie didn’t prevent this happening. Were the recommendations not followed? Were they inadequate? Are there other lessons to learn and actions to take? More when I can get to a keyboard again.

Has Ed Balls got it right?

Remote control and TVLabour Cabinet minister Ed Balls has been in the media today (e.g. see the Sunday Telegraph) talking about the possible effects of advertising on children. Some of this talk is oh so terribly New Labour (10 year plans, setting up new reviews, etc) but at heart there’s something to welcome here.

So many parents mention the impact that advertising on TV has on their children – shaping their attitudes, setting their tastes, increasing their demands for material goods. It’s an area we have to address. As I wrote in September, on the subject of the pressures that so many young girls feel over the images of what they “should” be liked hurled at them day after day:

The pressure to become mini-clones and mini-consumers is immense…

The answer is to seek balance – to value forms of status other than simply appearance. So, friends, activities, sport, study – and just being a nice person – kindness, humour, gentleness – need to become valued virtues.

Part of the solution lies with the media – and what a fantastic service it is that the BBC provides with its CBeebies channel, allowing children to enjoy the best of what TV can bring – the fun, the entertainment, the education – without being subjected to a commercial barrage of advertisements. That is public broadcasting at its very best.

So, let’s hope this is one government initiative that brings good news.

Busy, busy day

Earlier today got the figures on the funding proposal Haringey Council is getting from the Labour Government. I’ve been campaigning on fair funding for Haringey’s schools since I discovered that our schools get £736 per child less than those in neighbouring boroughs. Well the new funding proposals adds insult to injury. The gap will widen further to a £1,000 differential. I am seeking an urgent meeting with Ed Balls.

It was also the launch of Stroud Green School Children’s Centre today. This is after a series of delays, changes in staff, etc etc – and even today the Service Level Agreements weren’t signed. However – putting all that process mess out of the way – today was a lovely occasion with children helping with ‘planting’ a tree and a whole class singing to entertain us. This is part of a program to create 18 children’s centres in Haringey. Ten down – eight to do.

This is the first one to be constructed in a primary school and cost half a million. It’s much needed in the community but because of Haringey’s delays they missed the September term time start. But they open in a week or so – and there are some very lucky children who will be going there.

Iain Dale and I were then the speakers on ‘new media’ for the NCVO. Always enjoyable to share a platform with the uber-blogger! Then to Parliament for a series of votes before heading over to the Haringey Civic Centre for a Police consultative meeting.

Packed chamber as the IPPC had come back, as they had promised, to talk to local people, campaigners and the Sylvesters (Roger Sylvester‘s parents) about their report which basically resulted in no recommendations for discipline from the police – or indeed anything much.

Well – you can understand in Haringey where we have had a number of black deaths in custody – and no action on any of them – that the people in attendance were not best pleased. Actually it is really traumatic to see and hear the pain still in the room – eight years on – because they feel that justice has not been done. It is too hard to understand how a man could be dragged naked into the freezing night and die.

At least the Haringey Community and Police Consultative Group gives a forum where the anguish can be voiced – but it’s pretty cold comfort for a family who don’t believe justice has or will ever be done for their son’s death.

Fair funding for Harnigey's schools

Collect Lynne Featherstone campaigning against the £736 per pupil under-funding of Haringey schoolsmore signatures for my Fairer Funding for Haringey Schools – outside Rokesly School today. The basic issue is straightforward – Haringey schools don’t receive as much money per pupil as schools in neighbouring boroughs – hence my petition (click here to sign it online).

From the reply from Ed Balls so far – he acknowledges there is a problem and that a simpler formula is needed, is carrying out a review and hopefully in 2011 (!) will introduce an improved funding formula.

So – pressure to be applied, because our children and teachers shouldn’t have to wait until possible changes four years hence – though the good news from his response is that it suggests pressure may yet succeed as there’s a chink of light there already.

Big PFI bills hits Haringey schools

Met with the Head, Roz Hudson, and the Chair of Governors, Steph Gold of Alexandra Park School about the massive bill (around £300,000 in figures given to my Lib Dem colleague Cllr Gail Engert) that has landed on their desk courtesy of the Government’s PFI for schools program and the appalling PFI contract, negotiated by Haringey.

This contract, it appears, allows the PFI contractor (in this case Jarvis) variations. Well variations are not unusual – but these are not discussed or agreed with the school – they are just landed on the school. And it’s not just Alexandra Park School – it’s all of the secondary schools in Haringey.

In answers to questions posed by Gail, Haringey Council confirmed that Haringey’s secondary schools would be liable for PFI back payments totalling over £2 million.

Our schools are striving hard to improve performance and meet targets in Haringey. Alexandra Park School is doing brilliantly and meeting its targets. If Haringey and the Government refuse to acknowledge that these extra costs – for which they give no extra funding to the schools in their budgets to meet – are their liability and not the schools – then it will mean that pressure on schools’ budgets will harm the service that schools are providing to children in Haringey.

So – these are the PFI chickens coming home to roost. However, it is not the schools who should foot the bill for Haringey’s poor contract negotiation. I am writing to the new Schools’ Minister, Ed Balls, to ask that he review the situation in Haringey’s schools and together with Haringey Council come up with an financial rescue plan that either pays the bills or puts extra funding into the school budgets to meet the costs.

As the years go by – we will find more and more problems with these PFI wonders. At the time, it was Hobson’s choice. Schools either accepted the PFI deals set up for them – or there was nothing – absolutely nothing for them. And the sting in the tail for the Council is that the next ten years of funding for schools’ buildings – called Building Schools for the Future (BSF) – won’t kick in until these bills are all paid.