Sharon Shoesmith in The Guardian

Sharon Shoesmith pleads her side of the story in today’s Guardian. Her account sheds adds very little to what has already been aired in public – so rather than go over the ground I’ve blogged about at some length previously I’ll just make three brief points this time:

1. It’s a journalistic scoop for The Guardian – so I’ve no complaints over the front page lead and three full inside pages they’ve given it. But what a contrast with the way that so many people who had concerns about how Haringey services were being run under Sharon Shoesmith were side-lined, ignore or had legal injunctions banning them from speaking out. That’s one reason why we need a public inquiry – so that we can hear (and learn from) all those other stories too.

2. One point Sharon Shoesmith tries to argue in the article is one I have heard before in relation to this case – that all of this episode puts off social workers from coming to Haringey or indeed people going into the profession at all. That misses the point of the real problem – well-run services and departments attract staff. Failing to deal with concerns – as was Haringey’s way – is what lies at the root of the problems. Run services well and respond properly when concerns are raised – that’s the answer – not wishing the public and media don’t notice problems.

3. It’s a shame the coverage doesn’t address not only the question about how Haringey did (or rather didn’t) respond to concerns raised repeatedly with it over the running of Children’s Services – but also didn’t address the question of the way all the senior staff and councillors closed ranks after the death of Victoria Climbie, with only the most junior person in the food chain being disciplined. Complaints about interventions by Ed Balls or the media need to face up to that reality – last time, those other people responsible for blunders got away with it because there wasn’t this pressure. Would letting more senior people duck responsibility and blame everything on the most junior person they could find really have been the right outcome yet again?

Sharon Shoesmith

A flurry of calls from the media following the not entirely unexpected news that Sharon Shoesmith is appealing against her dismissal and apparently seeking compensation – Evening Standard jounalist said up to £170,000.

I hope her appeal fails because she signally failed in her child protection responsibilities – that was the damning conclusion of the Ed Balls ordered investigation. This concurs with my own experiences of trying to get her to deal with cases where there was a complaint against something in her department. The answer I often got was ‘children’s services are working fine’. She seems to be more interested in defending her department than dealing with the issues I brought to her.

If she were now to get paid for failure it would send out a message to those in these incredible responsible and vital positions that they can fail with impunity – and get paid for their trouble.

UPDATE: Daily Express has more, including the reaction from my colleague Robert Gorrie:

Robert Gorrie, leader of Haringey’s Liberal Democrat opposition, said: “We have said from the outset that those responsible for this tragedy should be held to account and that there should be no rewards for failure.

“Sharon Shoesmith was responsible for the council service that failed Baby P. I hope the original council decision to terminate employment without payment of notice is upheld.”

Ten most popular blog postings (4th quarter, 2008)

No real surprises here, with one story dominating your and my attention – the awful death of Baby P.

10. George Meehan and Liz Santry resign – the two key Labour councillors (council leader and lead member for children’s services) finally took responsibility for Haringey Council’s failings.
9. Baby P investigation update – thoughts following a meeting with Cabinet minister Ed Balls.
8. Panorama on Baby P – my advance thoughts, particularly on how the pressure to agree may result in people not sticking by their concerns.
7. Baby P at PMQs – a very brief post, but got lots of traffic due to the Brown-Cameron spat making that PMQs very high profile.
6. The departure of Sharon Shoesmith – my reaction to the (eventual) departure of the head of Haringey’s children’s services and education.
5. The roles of Sharon Shoesmith and George Meehan – in which I explain why I believed they should take responsibility for the errors and blunders exposed in the Baby P saga.
4. Brian Coleman and the Fire Brigade – see no.3.
3. Fire Brigade rushes to help – the Brian Coleman saga where, for latecomers, I feared for my and family’s safety, called the Fire Brigade – who said I did the right thing – but Brian Coleman (Conservative London Assembly member) took it upon himself to criticise. Cue numerous comments on my various blog postings and via my website from firemen agreeing with my actions.
2. Reading the Baby P Serious Case Review – after initially being kept secret, the review was shown to a small number of MPs, myself included
1. Baby P verdict – reaction to the trial verdict.

So – that was the last quarter. Let’s see what gets your attention in the next one…

The departure of Sharon Shoesmith

As I sat on the benches in the Commons yesterday for the result of the vote on Menzies Campbell’s amendment to set up a committee into the Damian Green affair as per the Speaker’s statement – i.e. to sit now and to be non-partisan – when my phone started ringing (silently or Mr Speaker would have my guts for garters!). We lost the vote by three votes – and the Government if it had had any sense would have agreed to the amendment – but no they got their partisan way, discrediting themselves as usual. So the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives will not sit on this rigged and delayed committee – ‘delayed’ because it would not do any real work until after police investigation and court proceedings are at an end.

Anyway – the reason for phone assault was the news breaking that Sharon Shoesmith had been dismissed without compensation. My reaction – huge relief really. For the first time in a long time what should have happened has happened. No pay off. No excellent references. That has been the way of ‘getting rid’ of people in both the public and private sector for too long and has created a rotten culture and rotten performance – at the very top.

Sharon Shoesmith failed in her duties and was accountable and has now suffered the appropriate consequence.

Someone said to me last night ‘she was unlucky’. No – she failed in her duty and that is why she has gone.

It’s just that we have got used as a society to accepting failure and rewarding it. But the Children’s Act of 2004 made it clear that the buck stopped with her position and the lead politician for Children’s Services.

However, if this is the long awaited fightback of doing what is right not what is expedient – then with a real stretch you might be able to say that she was ‘unlucky’ the pendulum started its swing back on her misdoings as opposed to all those who have got away with it before.

And the only other thing I think she was ‘unlucky’ with was that she was holding the parcel when, following Laming’s inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbie, the Government joined Social Services and Education Services and she, already Director of Education, found herself in charge of children’s protection as well without any experience.

I suspect that is why Ed Ball’s report criticises her oversight of the deputy – who was more hands on. However, she chaired and controlled the Safeguarding Children’s Board – and was responsible ultimately for a litany of failures the like of which I hope we never see again. One missed appointment when a child is on the at risk register should be enough!

In the newspapers today

The Sun and The Times have stories today which quote me. First, the Sun:

SHAMED Haringey Council squandered £19,000 trying to make Baby P scandal boss Sharon Shoesmith look better.

MPs were furious last night after learning spin doctors were hired following the tot tragedy.

Their role was to give media advice to the head of children’s services and her colleagues.

Ms Shoesmith, 55 — now suspended — was given role-play exercises by up to three firms on how to answer probing questions from journalists.

She twice refused to apologise at a press conference over her department’s shocking failure to save the 17-month-old “at-risk” tot after his evil mother and stepdad and a lodger were convicted of torturing him to death.

Lib Dem MP Lynne Featherstone said: “It is absolutely outrageous that this money has been wasted on spin doctors. Every penny would have been better spent on improving our children’s services.”

Full story here, and in The Times:

Police are investigating allegations of serious abuse of a five-year-old victim of child trafficking while he was in the care of Haringey, the London council that failed to prevent the death of Baby P.

The Metropolitan police child abuse team launched the investigation last month after claims that the child was being beaten while in the care of his adoptive family…

The police investigation will come as a fresh blow to Haringey, which was severely censured last week for its “inadequate” child protection measures following the death of Baby P, who died despite 50 visits from social workers and other public agencies. The children’s minister, Ed Balls, described an Ofsted report into the department’s child protection measures as “devastating”…

Police are investigating allegations that a five-year-old boy was abused while in the care of Haringey, the London council that was severely criticised over the death of Baby P.

An investigation was launched by Scotland Yard last month after claims that the boy, who had been a victim of child trafficking, was beaten while in the care of his foster family.

The boy, known as Child C, had been taken from his home in Africa and, once in Britain, was adopted as a “miracle baby” by a follower of Gilbert Deya, the evangelist who claimed to be able to cure infertility through prayer…

Last night Haringey was also condemned by MPs after it was revealed that the council had spent £19,000 on external media advisers after Baby P’s death to help Ms Shoesmith cope with the expected public interest. This included role-plays on how to handle hostile journalists.

Lynne Featherstone, the Liberal Democrat MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, which is part of the Haringey borough, said: “It is absolutely outrageous that this money has been wasted on spin doctors. Every penny of this cash would have been better spent on improving our children’s services.”

Full story here.

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.

George Meehan and Liz Santry resign

Just got the news: Haringey Council leader George Meehan and Liz Santry (Cabinet member for children and young people services) have resigned. Update – Sharon Shoesmith has been removed from office too.

Here’s the Sky report:

"Pressure builds on Baby P care chief" – The Observer

From today’s paper:

The senior council officer at the centre of the Baby P tragedy will come under intense pressure to resign from her £110,000-a-year job tomorrow, when a report by national inspectors into the failings of Haringey council is presented to the children’s secretary Ed Balls.

Westminster sources said they believed that Sharon Shoesmith, the council’s director of children’s services, would either quit ‘quietly’ of her own accord, or be put under such pressure to leave by government and opposition politicians that she would have no option but to go…

The Liberal Democrat MP Lynne Featherstone, who was a Haringey councillor at the time of the Climbié case, and whose Hornsey and Wood Green constituency covers part of the borough, said that Shoesmith had to stand down or be ousted. ‘She has to go. We cannot have a new start and restore faith in our social services when those who were responsible remain in charge.’

Robert Gorrie, leader of the Liberal Democrats on Haringey Council, says Shoesmith should not receive a ‘cosy deal’. ‘This needs to be done in a way inwhich we are not seeing payment for failure,’ he said. ‘If people are found to have failed in this crisis, we should not be negotiating deals under which they go quietly with a large pay-off.’

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!