Opposition demands urgent investigation after new Haringey Children's Services revelations

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?”

Haringey to get new Chief Executive!

Got a surprise this morning – Ita O’Donovan – Chief Executive of Haringey is retiring. Good! That means that another person who presided over the Baby Peter tragedy and aftermath is going.

I always thought it was strange that the Chief Executive’s voice was hardly heard at all during the Baby Peter case. Sharon Shoesmith – for all her faults – was out there taking the full force of public, media and everyone’s disapproval.

Anyway – moving onward and upward is the most important thing for Haringey Council. So – hopefully not only will we get a top notch new Chief Executive – we will also have a new administration next May when we have local elections – a Liberal Democrat one!

Haringey Council's systematic failures

Some months after the lawyer for Nevres Kemal (the whistleblowing social worker) had written to the four ministers David Lammy (minister as well as the tragic Baby P’s own MP), Patricia Hewitt, Ivan Lewis and Rosie Winterton and got no satisfactory response – her story finally came to me – can’t say how.

Concerned by what I heard – anything that links Haringey with serious failures in child protection automatically sets alarm bells ringing – I decided that the best and most direct action I could take would be to bring it to the attention of George Meehan who, as Leader of Haringey Council (as he was at the time of the Victoria Climbie tragedy), ultimately must bear responsibility for its actions.

I personally wrote to him, both about the issues raised by Nerves Kemal and also two other cases which I thought indicated a systemic failure in Haringey’s Children’s Services.

I quote a few of the paragraphs from my letter of November 2007:

There have been a few cases in terms of Children’s / Social Services issues that concern me and I wanted to bring them to your attention…

[There] is a seeming repeating pattern. A parent or social worker makes a complaint about something to do with a child – be that against the school or the Council department. From analysing three cases in particular, what seems to happen is that the first instinct of the authorities is to turn the complaint on the complainant in a sort of closing of ranks.

I then go on to describe the three cases, the third of which being Nevres Kemal:

The third case: Social Worker Nevres Kemal. I’m sure you know she was dismissed for breach of confidence and trust. But my concern is the pattern again – that tables appeared to turn on her after she raised the issues of no medical reports being completed on a case.

The point I am raising George, is that it would seem that there is a pattern of the Council exhibiting more interest in protecting the school, Authority, department than investigating the actual complaint. Moreover, that in seeking to protect the ‘establishment’ the real issues are not being investigated – which may lead to incompetent people staying in post, bad practice and so on – and worst of all – children being at risk … I could not rest easy without bringing this initially to your attention.

I then asked for a meeting, and finally managed to get one with George Meehan on 31st January 2008. Ita O’Donovan (Chief Executive of Haringey) was in attendance at George’s request – so it was Haringey’s more senior politician and most senior member of staff at the meeting.

I brought the case histories and the letters with me and went over my extreme concerns with them both. They assured me they were as concerned as I was and Ita O’Donovan said she was looking at this in particular and commissioning an expert examination (I believe that is what she said).

But chasing letters following the meeting asking what had happened were not responded to.

So whilst Ms Kemal raised concerns with Ministers – and I subsequently raised them face-to-face with those directly accountable in Haringey – it seems from the unfolding of tragic events that neither route produced the right response. And the horror of this is that if both at local and national level there was no effective response – then we do not have in place adequate safeguards.

Meeting with Haringey Council's Chief Exec

Met with Haringey Council’s Chief Exec and raised a number of issues:

– the fact that the Noel Park Recreation Ground children’s play area was still unfinished and the contractors according to a local parent had not even been on site for three weeks. I can’t think of an excuse and if they were my contractors I would want to take action.

– the need for Haringey to gain two stars in their star rating assessment for housing. Residents were encouraged to vote to outsource housing from the Council to an ALMO (Arms’ Length Management Organisation) because then they would get lots of money for housing improvements – but only if the service also got a two star rating. So I asked for the action plan and was told I can get it from the new Chief Exec of the ALMO who used to be Director of Housing at the Council – which I will do. We need Haringey and ALMO to deliver that action plan (and I don’t care to distinguish between that revolving door) so that tenants don’t face the double whammy of outsourcing responsibility for housing in order to get repairs done only to find that they then don’t qualify for the dosh.

I have offered to help in any way I can to lobby the Government on this (or indeed if anyone ever was interested to tell them what I know from all those who come to me about housing issues).

– the long time it is taking to get a lorry ban in Dukes Avenue. I know there is a meeting to take place (not the first) soon between my colleague Cllr Susan Oatway (Lib Dem, Alexandra ward) and the appropriate officer – but I want to raise the slowness of the process (years) and indicate that waiting for the North Circular to be resolved is like waiting for Godot.

– the poor result in Ofsted on Youth Services – for which the response was an assurance was that the Labour Exec Member in charge of this area was a good and absolutely committed councillor. All well and good – but I had hoped for a somewhat more robust assurance about what the Council might be doing in terms of action and resource in this area – when we know that so much of the anti-social behaviour that is complained about stems from young people having nothing to do and nowhere to go etc.

– and a number of other issues, including provision of business recycling services (a must in my view), lobbying on the costs of asylum and the need to investigate what is and has been built behind the shop fronts on Myddleton Road.

Ita (the Chief Exec) will get back to me on all of these in due course.

Scouts, hospital and interns

Off to the Scout Park again for photo op with local commander Simon O’Brian and Ken Ranson (of Scouting Association), two of the Safer Neighbourhood officers from Bounds Green ward and Cllr John Oakes – local councillor. We are there to meet local photographers from local papers to push hard for funding to build replacement buildings for the ones currently not ‘fit for purpose’. They are not only not fit but actually in such a state of disrepair that they can’t be used.

I am a big fan of this project. I’ve written the strongest supporting letters I know how to do to support the lottery and heritage bids. I want it for the Scouts – but I also want this amazing eight square hectares of open space in the middle of Bounds Green (that almost nobody even knows exists) to be opened up for all the local young people.

The Scouts will obviously use what they need first – but that leaves oodles of opportunities for our local youngsters. The two Safer Neighbourhood officers are running a scheme this summer for youngsters from Bounds Green between the ages of 13 and 18 to come and do outside activities. And I would like to see a mix it up program which takes kids from all the different schools – so they are not necessarily with their peer groups – and throw them together for a week of outdoors activities. The buildings and open spaces can be hired for meetings and events. There is so much that could be made of this space.

Back to the constituency office for a management meeting. I am trying to arrange a meeting with Richard Sumray – Chair of Haringey Primary Care Trust (PCT) – to push forward the Hornsey Hospital redevelopment. With the dosh now available from the government there is a possible opportunity of forcing the pace.

The hospital closed despite a massive local campaign – and the deal with the campaigners was that it would be redeveloped as a local community health facility with respite care beds etc. etc. It must be something like four or so years since we have been meeting about its future with the PCT – but nothing concrete (literally) yet.

I have decided to try and force the pace on this. The Health Trust insists it must sell off a large chunk of the land – but a) this isn’t fair and b) there is not guarantee the funds will go back into this particular site. Anyway – I spoke to Richard Sumray a couple of weeks ago and he promised me a public meeting in September. I believe Richard’s assurances that he is committed to pushing the new facility through – but I want to help him by applying as much pressure as I can. My diary organiser had phoned Richard to make the appointment but he is currently in some far flung part of the world. To be continued.

I want to know what the Council are doing about the Noel Park children’s play equipment. It made it into the press when I went over there to meet parents who are outraged that their children are facing a second summer without the promised replacement equipment. I wrote to Cllr George Meehan (Labour Leader of the Council) about it – no reply yet of course. The newspaper had a quote from the council saying they were sorry there had been a delay. But I am now going to write to Ita O’Donovan – who is the Chief Executive – as I expect she will be far more able to efficiently expedite matters than George.

Then it’s in to Parliament for the last official day of sitting – so I finish up odds and sods. I pop over with Nick Clegg (Shadow Home Secretary) for a photo op on DNA and then have dinner with my researcher and interns to thank them for their really hard work. The intern system is fantastic – hopefully for both sides. Young graduates mainly, although I have taken some school leavers and gap year students, work for expenses but get useful experience and a better of idea of what such a career might really involve – and also then get to put that they have worked for an MP on their CV. They come and go relatively quickly – but I have to say I have had some wonderful young people over the last year.

Wood Green development

Surgery all morning at Wood Green library followed by meeting with the council officers involved in the Wood Green Master Plan.

Master Plan is a bit of a misnomer – as this is really a Wood Green Planning and Business Improvement document. It’s early stages – but as far as I could glean this was a bit of strategic assessment of what might improve the regeneration and status of the area. There are a number of big sites that will be developed in the relatively near future – like Heartlands and the old Civic Centre site. The issues of jobs in an area of high unemployment, planning, sustainability and so on need to be handled sensibly to bring in the sort of retail that will provide more trade and attract more people – whilst taking into account in the needs of local residents whose services – such as transport, schools and health facilities – will need to cope with any growth. And the confidence of residents is dented when ghastly looking buildings from lowest common denominator developers get built.

However, that having been said, I am heartened by the fact that strategic thinking is going on – so long as it is followed by strategic consultation before it gets to a stage where we all feel we have no effect on outcome. I was delighted to learn that the new Haringey Chief Exec – Ita O’Donovan – has been having a go about design quality of the built environment. In my first meeting with her, I made it clear that I felt Wood Green was being damaged by ugly buildings that people then had to live with for years. In fact my first speech in Parliament talked about this – as it is always those in areas of deprivation who get the most badly stuffed by this sort of crappy design and materials.

I also lobbied at the meeting for improvement to Wood Green station – which can barely cope with the numbers already using it. It is not just a lick of paint that is needed but a redevelopment and expansion of capacity. And my last thrust was on sustainability – this is an opportunity to bring some real meaning to sustainability and also to be innovative. Why not bring some real green-ness to Wood Green High Street – water, trees, landscaping, planting street furniture of a real high standard – would all make such a difference! And the front of the library … need I say more?

Last issue of the day is the tragic knifing of schoolboy Kiyan Prince in Edgware. Carrying a knife in a public place should carry the same sentence as that for firearms. If you are murdered by a gun or murdered by knife, the outcome is the same – you are dead. In the Violent Crime Reduction Bill going through Parliament the Lib Dems did put an amendment at Report Stage asking for this. Labour voted against increasing the sentence. The Bill will raise the age at which you can buy a knife from 16 to 18 – which we supported (despite Labour’s attacks on us to the contrary) – but wanted Labour to put in what types of knives were prohibited. As it stands the new legislation means you will be able to get married at 16 but not buy your cutlery from John Lewis until you are 18!

The 7-year tariff for carrying a gun has reduced gun crime. Knives should be the same. I don’t take the view that we should automatically have scanners in every school – that is not the answer to knife crime. I heartily approve of teachers being given the powers to search those kids they suspect of carrying – but don’t believe we should treat all children as criminals. Even more importantly, as knife-carrying is epidemic, is to work on the why and the causes to change behaviour. The culture means that kids believe it is cool to carry a knife – a fashion accessory to gain status. Supporting teachers, the school police person, acceptable behaviour contracts (ABCs) which target behaviour improvement – we need a long sustained and well-resourced emphasis on working on children to turn this around. Punishment, strong sentencing and enforcement all play an important part – but they are not enough on their own to counter the ills of society.

The National Lottery

I receive an email saying: Encourage Your Constituents to Have Their Say on the Future of the Lottery

The National Lottery Commission is the regulator of the National Lottery and is responsible for deciding who will operate the National Lottery when the current licence expires in January 2009. They say they are committed to running a fair, open and transparent competition, which has been designed to attract high quality, credible bids to run one of the most successful lotteries in the world.

They have published the Draft Invitation to Apply (ITA), which sets out the near-final details of the opportunity to bid for the licence to run the National Lottery from 1 February 2009. Published alongside the ITA is the Draft Licence, which details the conditions under which the Lottery will be regulated. The Final ITA and Licence will be published in June 2006.

The Draft ITA is available to download from their website at: http://www.natlotcomm.gov.uk/Competition/

Public opinion is an important factor in the competition process they say, and ask if I am willing to encourage members of the public to contribute their views as part of the competition process. They have launched an online questionnaire to encourage people to have their say on the future of the Lottery. The questionnaire is available at www.natlotcomm.gov.uk

So as they say that they want my constituents to Have Their Say – I am publicising this so that you can!

New Haringey Chief Exec

Met with the new Chief Executive of Haringey Council – Ita O’Donovan. I had met her in recent weeks twice at ‘events’ but this was my first official meeting. She seems very competent and I used the first meeting, as did she, to just iron out the relationship between the Council and myself, have a general chat and raise a couple of serious constituency issues, including my concerns over Hornsey Town Hall.