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Friday, November 27, 2009

An extraordinary lapse of judgement

If this week has been remarkable politically for the near-break up of the One Wales Government over the referendum date, then it has been doubly so for the extraordinary lapse in judgement shown by the Health Minister in her attacks on Swansea Social Services.

On Wednesday Edwina Hart issued a press statement in her capacity as the AM for Gower which made untrue allegations about Swansea Council and, in my view compromised her future dealings with that City's social services department.

In this statement she expressed her 'serious concern' about proposals to consult on the closure of two children's homes in Swansea. She alleged that both facilities have been largely unused for some months and that this has resulted in children being placed out of county. She said that this practice is discouraged in WAG guidelines, a statement which in itself is a misunderstanding of the Government publication, Safer Lives Brighter Futures.

Mrs. Hart also alleged that, on occasions, children who have had to be removed from their homes in an emergency have been forced to spend the night with a social worker in a motorway café because there has been no emergency accommodation. This is an allegation that has been categorically denied by the Council.

When that denial was put to her office they said that the claim had been relayed to them in a meeting with 17 members of staff who work in those homes and therefore it must be true. They also said that they had e-mailed the relevant cabinet member on the day before they issued their statement to ask him to comment but had not received a reply. As a result they went ahead and made the allegation publicly.

Neither of these actions make the claim any more likely to be true, particularly as Edwina Hart alleges that it has happened more than once. If it had happened at all then the social worker concerned would have been perfectly entitled to have published that fact under whistle-blowing legislation. They did not.

If it happened then it would have amounted to a serious breach of social care guidelines and would possibly have been illegal. In such circumstances an experienced and responsible politician would have taken the allegation to the head of paid service at the Council, the Social Services Inspectorate and the Police. The fact that the Health and Social Services Minister has done none of these things indicates that she does not have any evidence of the event happening and is instead relying on hearsay to try and smear the Council.

Given that Edwina Hart has the ultimate responsibility for oversight of social services in the cabinet that is a pretty damning failure on her part. Not only has she misunderstood her own guidelines but she has failed to act in accordance with her duty as a Minister in taking these matters through the proper channels, preferring instead to go straight to the local paper.

Furthermore when challenged to substantiate her allegations she not only failed to do so but put out a further statement in which she stated that accusations that she was playing politics with the treatment of vulnerable children are "pretty rich coming from an authority with Swansea's appalling record in Children's Services."

That is another remarkable statement. It comes a month before the Council's Children's Services are due to be inspected by a body that is overseen by Edwina Hart. And yet she appears to have already judged the department prior to the inspectors even arriving at the civic centre. Can the professionals who work in Swansea Social Services expect to receive fair treatment now?

It is true that the Minister has put an intervention board into place because the City's Children's Services were judged to be poor but then there are many other Councils with equally poor services and for common reasons. It is also the case that significant improvements have been made in Swansea in recent months, all of which have been dismissed by the Minister.

With regards to the issue of the Children's Homes, both the Social Care Inspectorate and National Children's Homes have said that these two homes are not fit for purpose. The Welsh Government's intervention board has urged the council to do something about this and as a result officers are redesigning the service, publishing a 90 day consultation notice on closure and putting in place alternative provision. At present these homes are under-utilised whilst a brand new facility that meets all of the inspectorate's requirements has just been opened.

Although this is a personal statement from her as a local AM, I consider that the Minister's statements have called into question whether she can act impartially in judging the efficacy of the Councils' children's services department. Up until this moment I have been happy to support the decision to put an intervention board into Swansea Council to sort out children's services. I still support the work they are doing. But judging by the Minister's behaviour this week it seems that we would be right to question whether that decision was influenced by party political factors.
Perhaps she should have a good look at NPT Children's Services.

What's that saying about people in Glass Houses?
A little off topic, is there a reason why the LD's didn't/couldn't form a coalition with Labour after the last Assembly election?
Yes as a retired Union rep, I would have used the whistle blowing Laws as well, and given my resignation as well, this is one bit of law thats as dead as a dodo. to many people have been sacked while using that bit of useless legislation
That is a very long story Stonemason. It boils down to inept negotiating tactics and missed opportunities.
I guess it was the Welsh people who lost the most ... missed opportunities ... by the time this current macabre political journey is over the electorate will have lost a decade, more or less.

I think the links between Nu-Labour and the Welsh Nationalist is very clear, I believe little deals are being done in other Parish Councils not just on the Bay but also in the Civic Offices all over the country.

It didn't come as much of a surprise to me when the only Plaid County Councillor elected in Bridgend chose within a few weeks that he'd be sitting with his labour colleagues.
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