As I wasn’t actually at the Haringey Full Council last night – watching via webcast instead – I asked Ed Butcher, one of the local Liberal Democrat councillors and my Head of Office, if he would write a guest blog to cover the meeting properly. Here it is:
Opposition means lots of things, but one thing I hadn’t fully appreciated until last night’s council meeting is the physicality of being in opposition. As Labour councillor after Labour councillor voted in hollow and weak voices to keep George Meehan and Liz Santry in post, not one of them was able to look us in the eye. Their sorrow and weariness was apparent, but they defiantly limped on.
At times like this you have to ask what you would have done differently. I simply do not accept Haringey Labour’s excuses. After over 40 years of running the borough, I don’t think they fully appreciate the culture of silence, stonewalling and secrecy that exists. This is what we would change. But, the real story is that I don’t think they really know what’s going on themselves.
Haringey Labour councillors have become so trusting and reliant on the advice of their officers that they have become incapable questioning it. With governance should come a healthy scepticism about what you’re being told. Having seen the Director of Children Service speak after the verdict, the public can make up their own mind as to the quality of that advice.
The culture of secrecy pervades the organisation. People who worked in Haringey child protection services have come forward with alarming stories claiming that they were told to shut up when they tried to raise concerns. This goes right to the top, where I know there have been attempts to bully and threaten my council colleagues into silence rather than welcome our independent scrutiny.
Even in last night’s meeting, probably the most public meeting our council has ever had, the Labour whip could not help themselves from shutting down the debate. We tabled two important motions. One was a vote in no confidence in the leader and the executive member for children’s services. The second was a motion to stop any compromise deals. Haringey has a dark history in paying off its staff to silence them – most notably a former Chief Executive whose departure cost £1m. The purpose of this motion was clear. There should only be two ways for any officer to leave following this. Either they resign of their own accord or they are sacked for gross incompetence. Not a penny of council tax money should be used to buy their silence. So with only 15 minutes of the council meeting left, the Labour whip accused us of talking for too long and decided it was far more important to move on to other business, such as appointment to outside bodies, rather than use the remaining time to discuss compromise deals. Plus ça change…
At the council meeting we were told that we could be reassured because of a litany of actions since the death of Baby P. There have been reviews, training, external checks, and now a further inspection. None of this has been open to scrutiny, none of them public. Not much of an assurance.
I asked Councillor Santry what she had done to review matters. She seemed to think an intermittent committee reviewing targets was enough. It says it all really.
I have little doubt there will be a blood letting and they will resign following the inspection report. But I wasn’t voting for change of face at the top, I was voting for a change of culture. I only hope the process the Government have imposed can deliver this. My fear is a stage managed departure will leave much unchanged and our at risk children at even greater risk.