We’ve learnt nothing so there will be another Rotherham

Mmmm, tasty hands

Mmmm, tasty hands

All children have a right to a happy childhood

Reading the report on Rotherham, which I have now done twice, is very like reading the reports about Victoria Climbie and Baby Peter in Haringey.

I know that in some ways the cases are different. The two Haringey cases concerned violence to a baby and a child. Duplicitous parents and carers were able to pull over the eyes of concerned or in some cases unconcerned staff who were unable to grasp the enormity of what was being done. In Rotherham it was sexual grooming in which it would appear council and other staff whilst not being implicitly involved certainly seem not to have acted when action was necessary.

But the real things that link the two cases are institutional inertia and professional indifference. To protect our troubled children we seem to need an army of people from different organisations to bring their professionalism to bear. Some of the professionals have taken years to acquire their ‘ism’ and have charts across the role to prove how clever they are at that ‘ism’!

In Rotherham that army included residential care workers, front line social workers, senior level social workers, council legal and financial and general management staff, Police, health workers, health visitors, charities, community groups, religious groups, teachers, educational welfare officers……. Et al. All earning a living; all protecting their organisation and all protecting themselves.

In Rotherham and Haringey the services were not drawn around the needs of the child but around the needs of the organisation. I regret to say, as someone who is hugely supportive of local councils, that the chief culprit in Rotherham is the Council. Either there appeared to be no high level appreciation of the industrialised abuse of children in the area or they did know and preferred for whatever reason to look the other way.
When reports came their way they were pushed aside. When whistleblowers blew they were either ignored or were harassed from bringing the bad news of what was happening out of the dark. Why were senior politicians and managers so poor? Why did they have so little comprehension about what was happening in their community. I can understand that they might not, to begin with at any rate, have believed what was being reported to them. Almost all of us find it hard to grapple even with the concept of abuse on the scale of Rotherham. But from 2002 onwards there was no excuse. A report was presented both local to local government in Rotherham and in London to central government. The report was quite clear although a little out in some minor respects. It portrayed things which should not have been brushed aside but which should have been investigated further.

I do have some sympathy with the Council – (although not much). As indicated above society seems to adopt a very different approach to other people’s children than when we deal with our own. When you deal with your own child you take on the job largely unqualified. No-one can or does teach you to be a parent. Although some help and training can be given you don’t know what it is like until you do it. Of course Mums and Dads get help from professionals. We all need help from the teacher, the health visitor, grandma and grandpa, neighbours and many others. But we get on the job of muddling through because we love our children and have a relationship with them.
That was the original concept of social work. When Seebohm pioneered the concept of social workers in the post WWII period he thought that a social worker would be in local parentis for children and in a different way for people with different challenges including the one that gets us all in the end – ageing! His idea was that a concerned person would be attached to each person in need. They would form the bond and contact against which other interventions and professionals could interact. But 15 different professionals from 14 different organisations did not save Baby Peter. Thousands of people over 15+years in Rotherham looked the other way or were just incompetent in dealing with the actions of skilled and scheming sexual predators.

So the Mayor of Liverpool, concerned about the involvement of our own Chief Executive whilst the Chief Executive of Rotherham during the period, has called for a public enquiry. Another one?! We have had public enquiries about issues like this until they have come out of ears but nothing has changed.

Yes there needs to be a full investigation of who knew what; who did what and who did nothing over that period 1999-2013. People need to be held to account and both officers and members should be made to face the consequences of their inactions. It would seem to me that both officers and members could equally be found guilty of malfeasance in public office for their roles during this period. If so they should face the full force of the law.

But we know what is wrong. Too many cooks spoiling the broth. Too many institutions; too many professionals; not enough love; not enough compassion; too much hand wringing; too much buck passing; too much paper work; not enough cuddles. It is the system that is so very, very wrong and until we change the system the Police, the Council, the Health Service will all be able to continue to play musical chairs to dodge responsibility until the last one without a chair is the poor front line social worker whose pleas were not heeded and who were not supported by those above them in the posh suits, and the deep chairs.

Have an enquiry by all means but not just into Rotherham but into the way we have over-professionalised and over-organised our care of our troubled children. The Government must set the lead in the development of a new mechanism. Its own response – the ‘troubled family’s initiative’ is too slow, too cumbersome and has not brought back into the centre the lessons needed to enable the change to be directed. A review could be done in months. We cannot afford to wait 2/3 years for a public enquiry into the activities in just one geographic area.

By the time a General Election is held all 3 of the main Parties or any combination of the same Parties if there is a coalition, should be ready to press the button and shake the child care tree to bring about the change which has been so evidently required for the past decade.

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How Liverpool Should respond to the Rotherham Report

Today I have written to the Mayor of Liverpool suggesting that he needs to respond to what is coming out of Rotherham and the implications that it might have for Liverpool. I understand that following my letter Mayor Anderson has made a statement but at the time of posting this I have been unable to get a copy.

I want to make it clear that I making no suggestions about Mr Fitzgerald or suggesting any specifc actions that should be taken. I do feel however that as Mr Fitgerald’s involvement has been made public then he should be given the right to respond to what has been said publicy.Indeed I think he has a public duty to respond.

16, Dovedale Road,

Liverpool L18 1DW

07885 626913

 

Joe Anderson,

Mayor,

Liverpool City Council,

Dale Street,

Liverpool 1

29th. August 2014

Dear Joe,

Re:      Ged Fitzgerald and Rotherham

I am sure that you will have been as concerned as I have been about the affairs that have been unravelling before our eyes over the past few days about the Children’s Services in Rotherham.

I understand from the press that the Current Chief Executive of Rotherham has forwarded a copy of the report to all councils where former Rotherham senior staff are working.

I note also that the current President of Solace made clear that it was the responsibility of current employers of such staff to investigate what those staff members did whilst in Rotherham and also to examine whether that has implications for their current employers.

On that basis I would be grateful if you would let me know:

  1. Whether you have yet received the report;
  2. Whether you have yet been able to study it; and
  3. How you intend to take forward the suggested investigation.

I believe it is particularly important that such a review should take place quickly for 2 reasons

i) Professor Jay said that the content of the report which Mr Fitzgerald thought was, “anecdotal, used partial information and was methodologically unsound” was largely accurate and that children could have been protected if the report had been taken seriously. This could have implications for the way information is viewed and used within our own Council by senior staff; and

ii) In October Mr Fitzgerald is due to become the President of SOLACE, the Professional body for Chief Executives and other senior council staff and therefore the public face of all Chief Officers in England. It would clearly help him to have questions about his tenure in Rotherham cleared up before and if he assumes that role.

I look forward to hearing from you your proposals in this matter.

Kind Regards,

Cllr Richard Kemp CBE,

Leader, Liverpool Liberal Democrats

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We must end the farce of Police & Crime Commissioners

Police

Last week a by-election was held to fill a vacancy for the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner caused by the death of the holder of the post Bob Jones. In total just 10.3% of the electorate turned out to vote in this election. Each vote cost the public sector almost £20 – a grand total of about £3.5 million. Bob Jones was actually someone I knew well. He was an excellent chair of the West Midlands Police Authority before that body was abolished. Had he died whilst doing the job of Chair there would, of course, have been an election in his council ward but at a cost of about £1,000. His job would have been filled by an existing members of the Authority.


Yesterday a major report came out about Rotherham Council. The man who was responsible for Children’s Services for 5 years is now the South Yorkshire PCC. As I write this he is resisting calls for him to resign from his own Party; the Home Secretary and almost everyone in town. If he had been chair of the Police Authority he would have been removed immediately and replaced in these circumstances. If he does go then the Home Office will have to pay out another £3,500,000 which would employ almost 100 police officers for a year!


Today the Labour Party has suspended from its membership the PCC for Bedfordshire. I don’t know why but I do know that it makes absolutely no difference the man is still in post and business carries on as usual.


But this is nothing new. When the elections for the PCCs were held in England & Wales in 2012 turnout varied from about 12% (in places like Merseyside) to about 18% in one place in the South East. People are not stupid. They were not going to waste their time turning out for a none job!
Last year one of the PCCS in the South East had a train crash of a television interview when she was unable to tell the public who paid for her what she did to earn her money. I did have some sympathy for her. These jobs are none jobs. No-one knows who the people are who do the job and no-one knows what they do.


Last year I was invited to go onto a BBC Law Programme chaired by Joshua Rosenberg about PCCS. I did some homework before I went and asked 130 people who attended the Allerton Road Farmer’s Market. Only 12 knew that there was a politician ‘in charge’ of the police; only 5 thought that there was a person directly elected to that post and only 3 knew her name. This is hardly surprising but for the record Church Ward has one of the highest electoral turnouts in Merseyside and half the people who attended the Market walked past the PCC’s office which has a big sign outside it signing what it is and who she is!


Earlier this year the same PCC appointed a Labour crony to be her Deputy despite having said she did not need a deputy and despite the committee (largely composed of Labour councillors who monitors her work) voting against the appointment. Jobs for the girls? Yes and a very well paid one as well so we now have 1.5 people earning big money for none jobs.


I opposed the idea when the last Labour Government said they intended to do it. The LGA mounted a big campaign against the idea which was the dropped. Well done Labour. I had less success with the Coalition Government. This was an idea which was not in the Coalition Agreement and it originated with the Tories. We had different proposals which were not quite as bad! They were told that [people would not be interested; they were told that it would break down strong relationships between councils and the Police Service via the Police Authority; they were told that they were creating expensive none-jobs which would not have the ability to change either police activity or council activity. Sorry folks everyone now knows we were right.


Put simply we need to maximise the relationships between Police and Councils because in many cases it is only the council that can come up with long-term solutions to the problems that the Police need to contain. Take some of the things that I have been involved with:


• Street crime in shopping area. Halved when a council improved lighting and restricted physical access to loading areas.
• Speeding. Massively improved by the imposition of 20mph zones and sometimes physical speed reducers.
• Youth anti-social behaviour much reduced following successful joint working between park authorities, schools, youth service and police.
• House burglary halved by the introduction of alley gates in terraced areas.


I could go on.


My solution is simple and it is not to go back to the old authorities. Instead give all the PCCs powers to the Police and Crime Boards which currently monitor PCCs AND insist that the Board is composed proportionately of councillors who have Cabinet or shadow cabinet responsibility for community safety. That would massively improve the synergy between two services that should be much more complementary to each other.


This needs a very short Bill in Parliament and would cost next to nothing to implement. In fact many savings would accrue but an enhanced partnership between the Police; Councils and other parts of the public sector.


I have no doubt that the Tories will continue to think this daft experiment will eventually work out well. I hope that the Lib Dems have learnt from the mistake of supporting this nonsense and will vote in the next Parliament to abolish these facile, futile positions.

 

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THE FIGHT FOR SEFTON PARK MEADOWS CONTINUES

 

SEFPARK

The Liberal Democrat Press Release Issued Today.

If Redrow think they are going to have an easy ride then they should think again!!

As the City Council announces a preferred developer for the Meadows at Park Avenue, Councillor Richard Kemp reiterates that they will fight this every step of the way.

Lib Dem Leader Richard Kemp said, “I find it particularly disappointing that a developer renowned for building tasteless boxes should have been selected for this site. Despite the Mayor’s statement that this land lies outside the boundary of Sefton Park, the Meadows has been part of Sefton Park for the past 150+ years and the people of Liverpool believe it should remain so.

If the developer and the Mayor of Liverpool are sure that there is an urgent need for more executive accommodation perhaps the Mayor would care to explain why no action has been taken regarding the land at the former Garden Festival site which has had planning approval for 1300 executive homes for the past 2 ½ years.”

ENDS

For more information Councillor Richard Kemp can be contacted on 07885 626913

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The Real Independence debate is for the English Regions

Commons

I watched the Independence debate for Scotland last night. It was basically what I had expected. Passion from Salmond – facts from Darling. How the Scottish electorate vote is not a matter of great concern for us in the rest of the UK. 91.7% of us will be staying together. The institutions that shape us will still be based in London. In fact my guess is that we will benefit.

I was unable to understand why if Scotland is as wealthy as Salmond claimed they continue to get a much higher level of public spending guaranteed through the national finances under the Barnett formula. They also get a much higher input from European funding over this current 7 year period. We can have some of that back.

My guess is that most high level banking jobs will migrate south as the much smaller Scottish economy could not support the risks of a banking sector that size. With good luck those jobs might go to Leeds or Manchester – with bad luck they would all just go to London. Other business would also slowly but surely migrate over the border to stay in with wider fiscal and economic certainties.
The EU is a curious one. New entrants have to sign up to the Euro. There is no guarantee that there would be a place for Scotland with at least two countries facing secessionist issues, notably Spain, almost certain to vote against the membership. Even if they were in they would have to renegotiate all the exemptions and rebates that the rest of the UK will continue to have. Actually some of the changes that will be forced upon them would be good. Most however, would not be.

Interestingly for the nation that has just hosted the Commonwealth Games they would also have to sign up as a new member for the Commonwealth as well. I doubt that this is a problem but it is not a foregone conclusion.

But that is all up to the Scottish people. If they want to float their boat into a whirlpool of uncertainty why should I bother as it will have minimal effect on me?

What I am interested in is the pressures that this will force on the way we do things within England. Whether as a bribe or part of a deliberative political process the people have Scotland have been promised that their Parliament will have much more power and control over finances than they have hitherto. There is already a major constitution deficit in this Country which manifests itself in two ways:

The MPs for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can and do vote on issues such as education and the health service which are controlled in their own areas by the regional government. That is they are voting on English only issues. Why? This anomaly will become even greater as more powers are transferred and MPs from those areas may only be voting for half the time on issues which affect their constituents.

If better Government is ensured by a transfer of powers from London to Cardiff, Belfast and Edinburgh why would it not be better ensured by transferring power over similar services to the English regions? We too suffer from the yoke of national proscription. We too suffer from plonkers like Pickles seeing a London problem for empty properties, housing benefits, parking and then through this narrow prism deciding on national policies which have adverse effects outside London and the South East.

This Government has talked localism but the effective control of power is still exercised through the iron grip of Westminster and Whitehall. The North-West would really flourish if we had political control with our region for fiscal policy and the development of regional activities to deliver services such as health, housing and education to meet our needs.

If you think this is a ridiculous idea then remember this. The North West of England has a population and a GDP that is very similar to Scotland. The Liverpool City Region alone has a population and a GDP which is similar in size to Northern Ireland.

The devolution for England debate was set back after a daft question was asked in a daft referendum in the North-East more than a decade ago. I doubt that I would have voted yes given the limited powers that were available to the putative new assembly. I am not a North-West nationalist (although an independent Scouseland is quite a good idea). I am however, a political pragmatist. All my experience is that when you release power to lower levels of Government that are closer to the citizen and the user the quality of services is improved and the efficiency of the service gets better.

That’s why I want devolution – to ensure that we can use taxpayer’s money effectively for the things that we know our regions and localities need. That will only be done by breaking the power of the panjandrums of Westminster and Whitehall. Westminster should only be dealing with things like foreign policy, defence, overseas aid and fiscal policies. Leave them with just this we could halve the number of MPs and London based bureaucrats. That would more than pay for the 8 new bodies that would be created (arguably London already has a regional body in place which would need marginal alteration).

So who is up for this debate? Which Party is prepared to strike a decisive blow for cost-effective services by including it in their manifesto for next year’s General Election?

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Setting New Goals for Local Government

Over the past few days I have received a number of requests to table a motion to the next meeting of the City Council about how money would be available to councils if we clamped down on tax dodging by multi-national companies.

I have slightly amended the draft sent to me and have now sent in this motion to council. I have asked for all party support for this as it is seems to me to be uncontentious in a council with no Tories in it.

Multi-national Companies and Fair taxation

Council notes that while many ordinary people face falling household income and rising costs of living, some multinational companies are avoiding billions of pounds of tax from a tax system that fails to make them pay their fair share.

It believes that local government in developing countries and the UK alike would benefit from a fairer tax system where multinational companies pay their fair share, enabling authorities around the world to provide quality public services. It believes that the Government must listen to the strength of public feeling and act to end the injustice of tax dodging by large multinational companies, in developing countries and the UK.

It recognises that a fairer taxation system which taxes multi-national companies fairly would bring in a large increase in revenue from central government to Liverpool. Accordingly it requests the Chief Executive to write to the Party Leaders in Westminster with a view to trying to achieve an all-party agreement to end or minimise this odious practice.

Cllr Richard Kemp CBE

Ironically I will not be at the next Council meeting. I will be in meeting with local government colleagues from all over the World at the United Nations in New York. There we will be looking at what replaces the Millennium Goals which expire in 2015. These, as you are probably aware, were a set of target which the UN has set itself and central and local governments throughout the World to reduce poverty in all its senses.

We are looking at a series of SDGs, Strategic Development Goals for the next decade and working with the UN to look at which of those targets should be adopted by regional and local government and how we should set about implementing them.

Last time I discussed these matters with international colleagues was actually in the Liverpool Town Hall chamber when the World LGA, UCLG, visited the City for our Executive Bureau in June. I made the point then which I will be repeating in New York that we have to make these goals relevant to all levels of Government in all countries. In our host Country the USA there are terrible problems of poverty. Some of the richest communities live cheek by jowl with some of the poorest. In parts of the USA and the UK there are whole communities where many function with poor literacy skills and few life chances.

These problems will actually get worse as technology relieves us all of jobs. I brought a few shares recently. Until a few years ago that would have involved at least 7 people doing something. Now it was done in seconds by clicking a button on a computer. The relaxed middle classes used to think it was just working class jobs that were going as automation took over from craftsmanship. Now algorithms are replacing the human brain and computers the human body.

The SDGs will mean nothing if only enshrined in a UN resolution even if that resolution is unanimously adopted as the last ones were after some prevarication. Each Council, each regional government each national government needs to adopt those goals and;

• Work within their own boundaries to reduce inequality and increase opportunity; and
• Work internationally to help poorer countries also achieve those goals.

I am very proud that the UK is the only Country which actually spends 0.7% of its GDP on international aid. This is not just altruistic although altruism is a good thing. I know just how much our aid packages are appreciated and when aid turns to trade then the UK and its companies are in with a good chance of taking advantage of those enhanced trade importunities.

I will keep you informed about what the council does with my motion and watch out for despatches from the Big Apple as I go ‘Over the Pond’ to the States!

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Liverpool library proposals short sighted and ill thought out

books

 

What is a library for these days? Well to be honest with you I am not sure. I am even less certain what it should be used for in 10 years time given the tremendous advance in e-media and publications.

Until about 10 years ago it was all so easy. A library existed to give out books to ensure that everyone had access to the written word which they needed for information, pleasure and study. Of course that was not all a good library did. It had sessions to encourage infants and older children to read; it lent out audio books and music; and it provided computers for study or recreational use to all that needed them. The old harsh place of “SShhh” and disapproving looks has long been banished in a city where our libraries gave us Beacon Status when controlled by the Liberal Democrats.
2 years ago when we raised the question of e-books in the Council Chamber we were mocked by Labour. 12 months ago they followed our lead and made 1,000,000 titles available through an e-library system. But there the thinking has stopped. The library closure report which was approved today has made no attempt to look at the current role of a library let alone think ahead to what it might be as the e-revolution rapidly moves forward. Although I don’t know the answer to the question, “What is a library for?” I at least know that it is a question that must be raised.

This is not a side issue. The ability to read for many is a key part of their pleasure. Being able to read leads to life enhancement; a desire to study and to learn and a familiarity with ideas and concepts way outside our own. For many of us it is fun as well. Even the best films such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy cannot begin to replicate your own imagination when you read those books.

But the converse is very clearly true. If you cannot read your employment and life skills are limited. Very few jobs do not now require at least minimal skills. No reading really means no future; no reading leads to a lack of confidence. No reading and you have no mental outlet for your imagination.

I look for my model for a new library system to the valuable work being done by the Reader Organisation in Calderstones Park. The name is a giveaway – it encourages people to read. It does it for anyone who wants to advance their reading skills. It does it especially, however, for those who for whatever reason do not have those skills. Perhaps they are ill; perhaps they missed their chances at school; perhaps….. well there all sorts for reasons why people have not got the reading knack and the reading bug. The Reader Organisation then works to set reading into the context of the needs and opportunities of individuals, groups and communities and it does it from a building but goes into the community and institutions to help the process along.

It then uses the reading to move people even further forward. Group work, oral work, drama, oral history, amateur theatricals and all sorts of things. It encourages confidence in reading. It provides a community within which people learn because they want to learn and find they can learn. That community is supportive and reactive to individual needs within the context of a friendly learning environment.

So what should Liverpool do next?

Firstly it should throw away the report it agreed today.

Secondly it needs to engage with the people of Liverpool on their long-term ambitions for how they can interact with the written word and receive help for achieving those ambitions.

Thirdly it needs to look at every place and body which it funds or otherwise exist to support two types of activity

• Basic skills particularly in the field of labour market intervention
• Arts culture and community

Fourthly it should look at Libraries and other reading based mechanisms provided by other bodies such as the Reader Organisation, schools, colleges and universities.
It should then set out a long-term strategy for the city which brings the answers to these questions together into one coherent whole.

You see we actually spend a lot of money on reading in the city but do not have a system which joins these disparate activities into a coherent whole. We know the City Council has to save money – we are all aware of the problems that it faces. But the answer to their problems is not savage cuts but logical creation of new partnerships to enhance the vital work being done throughout the City to help and encourage people to read for education; work and pleasure.

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