Wednesday, 3 September 2014
Response to Questions about Snowley Park/Glenfields Approval
The impact of proposed abolition of translation services
The news that UKIP County Councillor Alan Lay wants to abolish all translation services, or make people pay for them is interesting.
Of course, in a perfect world, we wouldn’t need translation services. But then, in a perfect world:
We wouldn’t have to produce leaflets and posters to explain where to turn if you are a victim of domestic abuse
- We wouldn’t have to put social workers in front of victims of domestic abuse and explain to them that they risk having their child taken away if they stay in their relationship
- We wouldn’t have to bring in social workers to talk to a child who has disclosed to a teacher that he is being abused at home
- Our social workers would never have to liaise with their equivalents in foreign countries about social work cases (and that includes us liaising with overseas agencies about British families living abroad)
- We wouldn’t have to employ staff who have to detain people under the mental health act and explain to their loved ones why that detention is necessary.
So the next question is, in these circumstances, if the county Council doesn't fund it, who should pay? Councillor Lay says:
"If interpretation is required, this will be supplied by the county council at a cost to the recipient."
In this case the recipient is the partner who has been beaten, the abused child, the mentally ill, or families of the mentally ill. Surely he cannot mean they should pay (but that is what he says). So, should the alleged perpetrator pay when they haven't been found guilty? Councillor Lay's thinking is dangerously flawed.
I would suggest that there are a number of reasons why this idea could have come forward. Either Councillor Lay still doesn't understand what the County Council does, or he lacks compassion, or he is being populist. My view is it is a combination of all three.
Now, if there was a motion to council to review the cost of translation services to see if we could cut costs, that would be worth looking at, but it is not what is being suggested. The perfect way of dealing with this would be through a scrutiny review, but unfortunately, UKIP helped get rid of the County's valuable scrutiny function.
I suspect that if Councillor Lay puts his ideas forward as a motion (the correct procedure) it would still be ruled out by the County Council's legal team on the basis that we have legal obligations to provide such services and therefore that the intent is not deliverable.
We have a by-election pending in Wisbech. I hope as many Wisbech people as possible can read this so they can see the sort of heartless, wrong-thinking UKIP Councillor has been elected.
Saturday, 30 August 2014
UKIP To Replace Chairman of Adults Committee
- I do not doubt for one second that Paul Clapp has been diagnosed with dyslexia and I wish him nothing but success in learning how to deal with it.
- This blog is not about Paul Clapp – the proposal to remove him as Chairman of the Adults Committee at Cambridgeshire County Council has been made and it is for Paul to reflect on that and deal with it. It is true I am not a fan of his, but I will give him the credit for trying as a Councillor and I hope he uses his willingness to work to deal with and overcome this situation.
What this blog is about is the way the UKIP leadership dealt with Paul Clapp’s removal; the way they attempted to soften the blow to UKIP by using Paul’s dyslexia. If I thought for one second that the reasons for Paul's removal was because of a diagnosis of dyslexia, I would be absolutely horrified. Politics at every level needs more people that have struggled in life, whether it be from illness, financial hardship, from disadvantaged background or for any other reason, and it needs those people in positions of leadership – provided they have the talent to deal with it.
It is, however, quite clear that Paul was struggling, and that struggle was IMHO down to a range of factors, including inexperience and a lack of support from the UKIP leadership at the County Council. If you look at the reasons that were put to the Council's Chief Executive in a letter by four group leaders, a few of them could be put down to dyslexia, but the biggest reasons could not – there are plenty of dyslexics with good strategic brains, who can cope with with complex political responsibility (Michael Heseltine is a good example).
It is also true that people often find a way of softening the impact of difficult political decisions and I suspect that this is what the UKIP Group Leader, Paul Bullen, was trying to do. But in my view it was a serious misjudgement. My guess is that the decision to blame it on dyslexia and the resultant press release will be widely read by dyslexics and dyslexia organisations and they will be horrified. The message it sends to dyslexics is clear – politics isn’t for you. It’s the wrong message and it is flawed thinking that went in to it – it is a decision that protects the UKIP group in Cambridgeshire but harms the improvement of politics.
I have asked the Council what support has been offered to Paul Clapp – we must make sure that if he wants it, it is there. Finding a way of dealing with his diagnosis will make him a better Councillor and will help the people of Wisbech. I wish him well.
I also want to say that the proposal to put UKIP’s Sandra Rylance in as Chair of the Adults committee is a good one – Sandra will do well.
Thursday, 28 August 2014
Not Seeking Re-Election to Fenland District Council
Saturday, 23 August 2014
Snowley Park/Glenfields Planning Permission – a few questions
Monday, 26 May 2014
State of the County - Children's Services
If someone really wanted to make mischief, they could point to children’s Services as a reason why the County Council needs committees – because it has an unsatisfactory OFSTED report hanging over it; they would be wrong and absolutely mischievous to do so though. Children’s Services is in a good place in Cambridgeshire with huge leaps and bounds having been made in the last few years.
The OFSTED report (two years ago now) came about for two reasons – one because of a high number of agency social workers in one team, which the Council had already addressed prior to OFSTED visiting and because of IT issues. The truth is the widely held view outside of the County was that the judgement by OFSTED was harsh but, in typical fashion, the County Council chose to take it on the chin and use it positively instead of fighting against it (and we could have challenged it). Certainly on my visits to Social Workers before I handed over leadership of the Council, the IT problem had become less and less of an issue. There are still huge leaps and bounds to be made around IT and social work, but they revolve around sharing of data with the wider public sector in order to better raise awareness of the vulnerable children’s circumstances – and that is a National issue, not a Cambridgeshire one.
We have not been afraid to be bold in Cambridgeshire, a few years ago we began a move to a different model of managing social work (known as the Unit Model) and it has been a huge success, not least because the structure allows for sharing of knowledge around casework. I sat in on a weekly meeting of social workers where this was happening and it was incredibly powerful.
The big danger with Social Care in the County is around political responsibility for safeguarding. The law requires that Councils who have responsibility for Children’s Social Care must have a politician designated as Lead member for Children. In the past this has been the Cabinet Member – and in that role he has taken political responsibility for the safety of our children, liaising with outside bodies, with the Chair of the Local Safeguarding Children’s board etc. that person is also the politician whose neck is on the line if safeguarding procedures fail. Under a committee system you could argue that this is the role of the Chairman of the Children’s committee – but is it? How can someone take personal responsibility for safeguarding when they have no executive authority? If there are issues, it would be difficult to hold them personally to account when they are only allowed to act on the will of the committee. The public would absolutely want clear accountability if the system failed, what they will get is a cloudy and unclear response - it will come across as politicians dodging accountability rather than taking responsibility. More importantly, that personal accountability really sharpens the mind and thinking of the Lead Member for Children – the lack of it has the potential to have the opposite effect.
Luckily, Cambridgeshire has the professional leadership that will ensure this does not become an issue – but that is now, what about in two, three years time as personalities change? I have still not seen anything that assures me this has been thought of in the transition to committees. Understanding and dealing with this so that the drive and innovation continues is something I believe the new Children’s committee will have to look at urgently.
Let me be clear, it is a sad fact that any Local Authority that is dealing with vulnerable children will face circumstances where awful things happen. That in itself should not be a reason for a witch-hunt, it is the underlying reasons for those awful events that matter. When I was Lead Member for children, Cambridgeshire had a number of child deaths, they are horrible to deal with – but there were two aspects that were important to me – the first is to find out why something happened, the second is to make sure that if there are lessons to be learned, they should be. One benefit we had in Cambridgeshire, to be fair, was political opposition that took a responsible attitude – that must continue.
Child deaths and serious incidents involving children are horrible to deal with. I can remember, even as Leader of the Council, receiving a telephone call about such an incident and being in tears when I put the phone down. That is one of the reasons that Children’s Social Workers are probably the profession I admire the most. They are a great, hugely conscientious group who take on massive responsibilities. I wish the public and the media would admire social workers more
Saturday, 24 May 2014
UKIP Chair of Adults Committee claims people with mental illness should not be Councillors
A few days ago Wisbech Town Councillor Steve Tierney, whilst participating in a Council meeting, tried to film UKIP Councillor Alan Lay who had turned up in his capacity as a County Councillor to address the meeting. The mayor of Wisbech (wrongly in my view) asked Steve to stop filming, Steve, of course, complied with the request and stopped.
As Steve has reported on his blog, that incident has resulted in three complaints to Fenland District Council's Monitoring Officer. That in itself is astonishing. But even more so is the wording of the complaint from UKIP County Councillor Paul Clapp, which includes the following line:
"if this is how Cllr Tierney gets his kicks then in my oppinion he is mentally ill and should not be a part of Wisbech Town Council."
Councillor Clapp has recently been appointed as Chairman of the County Council's Adults Committee, which will have responsibility for dealing the Council's services to vulnerable adults, many of whom will have mental health issues. I do not consider his comments to be appropriate in any sense (even if they are expressed as an opinion). It demeans mental health as an issue and also bizzarely includes a suggestion that someone with mental illness is not fit to be a Town Councillor - should someone with such a view be chairing the Adults committee?
Let me be plain here. If, when I was leader of the County Council, my Cabinet Member for Adults had used this quote, I would have sacked him. Unfortunately, the new system at Cambridgeshire does not allow the leader to do this.
I accept that Cambridgeshire is under a new system of governance now. But everyone involved in that system has to also accept that the move to committees is controversial and therefore, in the early stages, everything possible should be done to ensure public confidence in it; I cannot see how the public can have confidence in an Adults committee with Councillor Clapp as Chairman, he should resign. If he doesn't he should be told to resign by his group leader.
I have submitted a complaint about Councillor Clapp's comments to the County Council's monitoring officer. Inevitably submitting that complaint leaves me open to "tit for tat" accusations. But this is not about that, I have complained because I have serious concerns about a misunderstanding of the seriousness of mental health in our country. Left unchallenged, this sort of inappropriate language from people who should know better heightens that misunderstanding.