Labour predicts they will lose in Haringey

It’s every politician’s nightmare – leaving information that should be for your eyes only in the copying machine. Well it just happened – to Labour in Haringey. As the Haringey Independent, who have seen the document, reports Labour predicts it will lose the next Haringey Council elections – due in 2010 – and that the Lib Dems will win by 33 seats to Labour’s 24 (with no councillors for Conservatives, Greens or others). Way to go!

Highate councillor Neil Williams was the lucky man to find the document on the photocopier, as he recounts on his blog.

Finding the Liberal Democrats online in Haringey

Over the last year, the online presence of Haringey Liberal Democrats has steadily been growing and expanding. Five of my local colleagues now have their own sites / blogs:

Matt Davies – Fortis Green councillor
Fiyaz MughalNoel Park councillor
David SchimtzTottenham Parliamentary spokesman and Seven Sisters candidate
Neil Williams – Highgate councillor
Richard Wilson – Stroud Green councillor

Haringey Liberal Democrats are also on Facebook, including information about our forthcoming events, or – if you’re not a Facebooker – you can also instead out about our events via the main party website.

Oh, and don’t forget – I’m on Facebook, Twitter (mini-blog style updates) and Flickr (photos).

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.

Why I cried yesterday

Yesterday went to launch the sports day for the Hornsey Trust for Children with Cerebral Palsy. This is one of the only places in the whole of London where from the age of six months parents can take their child to a conductive education school. This is the method that started in the Petto Institute – at the time highly controversial, but which delivers results.

And you know – can you imagine what it is like? You give birth – with all the hope in your heart that nothing is wrong – and then you are told that your child has cerebral palsy. A new world that you never wanted to take part in lies in front of you. What does it mean? Where can I get help? What will my child be capable of? So many questions and so many battles ahead.

When you become the parent of a child with disabilities – you will spend so much of your time researching and fighting to get what your child needs. Of course – it should be there – but it it often isn’t.

Many parents come to me because they cannot get Haringey (or whatever local authority) to fund their child’s education or care. And when the policy is mainstreaming – there is a great resistance to special facilities.

That is now beginning to change – as the consequences of the policy have become clear – that in some cases mainstreaming is appropriate; in some cases it isn’t and in some cases half the week in each is the best solution.

Anyway – back to sports day. Three groups of children up to the age of seven with about six or seven children in each group were doing races. The first group were mobile with a variety of help – of walking frames or without – and they went around a simple obstacle course. The conductive method seems to work off intense one to one encouragement and help to urge the child to take the next move. It is a kind of patterning – but I am no expert. At the finish lines, siblings, parents and relatives rejoice – and the little ones faces full of beams. The point is that they have achieved!

The next group less mobile – but in a short distance to a finishing tape – they crawled using their elbows or whatever – each with a helper urging them on each and every step. And the last group even less mobile – literally encouraged to roll to the finish line.

It is intense and it must be exhausting for the trainers – but the children from all the groups absolutely loved it. And the effort and the love in that room meant that tears rolled down my face continually. Don’t get me wrong – no-one else cried – they were all happy. But I cried because the achievement was huge and the road so hard and the bravery and the love so strong.

And I spoke to quite a few of the parents – and the struggle they have had to get the funding to have their child here rather than where their local authority wanted the child to go. For parents here – they have seen what this method can achieve. The normal method puts them in a wheelchair and the parents feel condemns them to a very limited life. I met one parent of a girl who had not been able to walk – now she walks. For some the improvements are small by ‘normal’ standards – but they are all about improving quality of life and maximising what each child can do – and as a parent that is what you want.

It isn’t just cerebral palsy. Readers of my blog will see only a week or so ago I visited the mother of a young girl who couldn’t get a power wheelchair from Haringey who seem to operate a one chair fits all policy.

And there are many others – but I don’t want to post here as they are private matters brought to me – but they are on the same line. The parent fights and the authorities (whether medical, council or other) all seem to make the already horrendously difficult road more difficult, more bleak and more hopeless.

Three cheers for all the parents at Hornsey Trust and all the children – and the wonderful staff!

Then it was Highgate Fair – happily the horrible rain and drizzle of the morning has dried up for this Highgate celebration. Lots of stalls and people and children all milling around and seeing what’s to eat, what’s to buy and what’s to join. My Lib Dem councillor colleagues – Neil Williams, Rachel Alison and Bob Hare have a stall too. The big event for me here is the launch of the Highgate Shopping Bag! I purchase one immediately. My only problem now is that I have the Crouch End Shopping Bag and the Highgate Shopping bag (and I have a designer given to me by my daughter last Christmas) and Marks bags that you buy to shop there. So two things – is it de trop to use the wrong bag in the wrong area? (Jokes!) And come on Muswell Hill – you can’t be left behind! Join in and soon!

Thank you Neil

My friend Neil Williams is stepping down after four and a half years as Leader of the Liberal Democrat Council Group in Haringey. With taking control of Haringey Council at the next local elections the ambition and likely result – Neil reckons the next leader will not only need to get feet under table in good time – but must also be willing to commit to the long term after winning. And saint that Neil is – another decade as leader is too much to ask.

Lynne Featherstone and Neil Williams campaigning for the 603 busNeil and I go way back here in Hornsey & Wood Green. We have worked together on many campaigns – such as for the 603 bus route (pictured). He has been my election agent forever (and hopefully will continue to be such). He has been not only key in building our success here in Haringey, but himself was first elected to Haringey Council in Highgate in May 2002, where a big swing wiped the small Tory opposition off the political map in Haringey.

He took on the leadership of the Liberal Democrat group in January 2004, leading a group of 15 Liberal Democrat councillors. Since then, the party has gone from strength to strength. The Lib Dems have won four landslide local by-elections, and taken seat after seat from Labour in the council elections in 2006.

Oh, and along the way he was also agent for my own election as MP for Hornsey and Wood Green!

Neil has been a brilliant leader of our Council Group. It’s not just that he is talented in the chamber – which he is. It’s not just that he has guided our Liberal Democrat group from 15 to 26 members ready to take the council next time – which he has. It’s not just that he has a sharp political brain – which he does. It’s that he is a really great person and has been a friend and trooper for over ten years and co-author of the rise of the Liberal Democrats in Haringey. I’ve no doubt that whatever role he takes on next Neil will be brilliant again.

Local news: play areas, 603 bus and Post Offices

Just been updating my website with news stories from the last week, and here are three highlights:

What would you do with files of personal information, including bank details, on 20,000 people?

If you’re Haringey Council – the answer is, “leave the dumped in a squatted building”.

Yes – really! That’s what The Sun has discovered. The building in question is in Crouch End, and used to be used by a council Housing Benefit office. But when they stopped using the building, they failed to secure or clear out the files. Instead, we have a building open to anyone to walk in – and stuffed full of personal files, containing details of 20,000 people, including in many cases all the details needed for identity theft.

I am shocked and extremely concerned for the people affected. They urgently need to know the risk they have been exposed to by Haringey Council’s incompetence. They must be contacted immediately by Haringey Council so they can check whether or not they have been a victim of identify theft or fraud. Then, the council leaders need to sit down and seriously review their archiving system. With benefit claims, child protection documents and Council Tax records, Haringey Council holds some extremely sensitive information on virtually every person in the borough – and it must be properly looked after.

Neil Williams, leader of the Liberal Democrat group on Haringey Council, is tabling an emergency council motion today calling for a thorough investigation and review.

Jacksons Lane: outcome of Arts Council meeting

Lynne Featherstone MP and Cllr Neil Williams petition Arts Council over Jacksons Lane Community CentreWell – Neil Williams (Lib Dem Leader of the Opposition on Haringey Council) and I met with Moira Sinclair of the Arts Council this morning to plead for the Arts Council to overturn their proposal to cut funding to Jacksons Lane Community Centre. The Arts Council meet to make this decision on Thursday.

We have been swamped with responses to our petition which we handed in – thanks to everyone who responded; we will keep sending them in.

I was very impressed with Ms Sinclair. She was thorough, rigorous and efficient in her summation of why our beloved Jackson’s Lane is under threat. And it was crystal clear that she felt we are in this position because Haringey Council has not given it the necessary backing – neither financial nor emotional – over the last five years. And that has given the Arts Council concerns over the future financial management and property maintenance.

It was made quite clear that there is hope and the decision is overturnable – but at this eleventh hour I think perhaps only Haringey Council coming forward with complete commitment to the repair and renewal of the building and some matched funding would sway the members of the Arts Council when they sit on Thursday.

Haringey have – at this late point – responded to the consultation positively – but will there be any money on the table? It is their track record over the years before that I fear has led the Arts Council to put this terrible question mark over the centre’s head. Neil and I put our best foot forward, saying we would do our utmost to ensure that the corner had been turned.

Labour on Haringey Council really need to come up with the rescue package that can influence the final decision on Thursday. We certainly made it plain that this is a vital arts and performing arts facility in West Haringey and much loved and much needed by local people.

Perhaps the chink of light is that out of 75 organisations that are to have their funding completely or partially cut – there will probably be a couple who are saved from the axe. Let’s hope that Jackson’s Lane is one of them. With the enormous local community support and Neil and my pleas – we wait with baited breath and everything crossed!