27 September 2018
A few days ago I became concerned about Martin Tett, the Conservative Leader of Bucks County Council. He didn’t seem to know whether health and social care were in crisis or not (see blog of 25 September 2018 on the health page).
Now I’m really concerned. He also seems to be suffering from amnesia over Children’s Services – not to mention completely losing it at a Council meeting. His colleague, Councillor Whyte who is responsible for Children’s Services, also seems to have lost his grip on reality.
Martin Tett, had a rant at two opposition Councillors – Martin Farrow and Julia Wassell.
The Bucks Free Press reported Councillor Tett as saying:
“… I find some of the most disappointing comments I have heard in my quite long period now at this county council from Mr. Farrow and Ms. Wassell.
Normally we operate here on a very cross party basis, trying to protect the most vulnerable in our society.
And I find their attempt to score very cheap, and quite frankly nasty political points, at the expense of vulnerable children quite reprehensible.
The fact that they are trying to generate that we are starving children’s services of essential funding, and therefore de-prioritising children’s services is completely inaccurate, we have actually increased that budget from around £38 million to £60 million during a time when budgets are incredibly tight
And I think that gives the lie to quite frankly a disgraceful series of comments from the opposition.”
So what did Councillors Farrow and Wassell say to get such a vitriolic response?
Martin Farrow said:
1. Demand for Children’s Services could be predicted using statistical analysis.
2. Children’s’ Services had not been prioritised by BCC in the past which had ultimately led to today’s budget pressures.
He asked for reassurance that appropriate funding and planning was now in place and that this would be appropriate to ensure the most vulnerable children in Bucks are protected in future.
Julia Wassell agreed with this and added:
3. If BCC didn’t focus on preventative work, there was going to be a higher demand for Children’s Services.
Well you might ask, why did Councillor Tett describe these comments as disappointing, cheap, nasty, reprehensible, inaccurate, giving the lie and disgraceful?
To begin with, isn’t it the responsibility of opposition Councillors to scrutinize BCC’s performance? Aren’t they entitled to express dissent? Aren’t they there to seek reassurance for their constituents? Aren’t they there to oppose? And surely they are entitled to do this without bringing on a rant from the Leader of the Council?
Let’s have a look at the other point Martin Farrow and Julia Wassell raised – that Children’s Services had not been prioritised by BCC in the past which had ultimately led to today’s budget pressures.
Let’s have a look at the facts.
In January 2014, in a letter leaked to the Bucks Herald, Sue Imbriano, then BCC’s Head of Children’s Services, wrote to Chris Williams, then Chief Executive of BCC. She warned him starkly and in some detail that BCC was failing the children it should have been protecting and told him that the main reason for the failure was lack of resources.
Far from increasing the budget, BCC actually cut the budget of Children’s Service that March by £1 million.
Ofsted arrived in June 2014 and assessed Children’s Services as inadequate. It was a scathing report.
It said elected members had known about the concerns in children’s social care for at least 12 months. They had agreed to provide additional funding but merely reacted to events, injecting cash to cover overspends rather on the basis of strategic planning. Political leaders had said children’s social care was not the highest priority for the County Council.
BCC had to produce a recovery plan for the then Secretary of State, Nicky Morgan. However, she took just 7 days to reject BCC’s plan and put in her own advisor, a company called Red Quadrant.
Red Quadrant produced its own scathing report in January 2015 slating BCC for its slowness in getting its Children’s Services up to an adequate standard and criticising BCC for its failure “at the highest corporate level” to own and drive through the necessary changes.
Red Quadrant said progress was slow because key politicians cared more about the Council’s tarnished reputation than they did about safeguarding Bucks children.
By now BCC had had to pump at least £8 million into Children’s Services, over 20% of its budget. It also had to pay the cost of Red Quadrant’s services.
4 years later, OFSTED said BCC’s Children’s Services was still inadequate and the Secretary of State appointed a Commissioner to oversee BCC’s Children’s Services.
So it looks as though the facts bear out what Councillors Wassell and Farrow said; BCC did not prioritise Children’s Services and its incompetent management led to the current budget pressures. It looks as though Martin Tett owes them an apology.
Oh I nearly forgot. What did Councillor Whyte say?
He said the new children’s services team had been making great strides ……, we are prioritising the most in need…., unfortunately the excellent service to the most vulnerable children comes at a cost”.
Hardly worth commenting on. Councillor Whyte is still in cloud cuckoo land.
What OFSTED said (see blog of 2 August below) was that BCC was making some early progress from a very low base. BCC doesn’t have an excellent service; it is inadequate. And everything comes at a cost - particularly a totally incompetent council like BCC.