Conservatives call for resignation of Labour Cabinet Member
The Conservatives have called for the resignation of children’s services cabinet member Brigid Jones following the broadcast of a Dispatches programme on Channel 4 last night.
The prospect of the programme, which sent in a social worker with an undercover camera into the children’s services department, was the final trigger before the Council announced it was going to set up a voluntary trust to run children’s social services earlier this week.
Shadow Cabinet Member for Children’s Services Matt Bennett issued a statement:
What we saw last night on Channel 4 was truly shocking. It should be a source of shame to every single Birmingham City Councillor that events such as these still take place in our city, seven years after a Notice to Improve was first issued. The programme calls into question everything we have been told about improvements to the service over the last two years. It is worth noting that this programme was made in February, two months after a brief report was presented to Full Council assuring us that everything was on track.
We have supported Cllr Jones as she has implemented the three year Improvement Plan.
Indeed, I have commended her for actually getting beyond the first year. Previous plans
have not done so. However, we are now more than two years in and should be at the stage
of consolidation. Instead it is clear that the old problems remain, which is why the DfE has
now required Birmingham to be relieved of direct control of social services and put trust
arrangements in place.
In these circumstances it would have been perfectly reasonable and honourable for Cllr
Jones to say “I tried my best but it hasn’t worked. The buck stops with me” and resign with
her reputation intact. During her four years in office I have frequently disagreed with her
and have at times doubted her judgement and willingness to challenge officers. However I
have never doubted her integrity until now.
Cllr Bennett continued:
The spectacle of Cllr Jones attempting to claim that putting the service into a trust was
always part of the plan is deeply unedifying and flies in the face of everything she has said
and done since the Improvement Plan commenced. Indeed, when we brought an amendment to this year’s budget forward proposing exactly this arrangement she spoke passionately against it and voted accordingly.
If we are to believe her account now, she was not being honest at that time. Alternatively she is not being honest now, and the move towards a trust is entirely new and not of her making. I suspect it is the latter. One need only look at the statements she has made over the past few years and the detail contained within the Improvement plan to see that her current claims are completely at odds with everything that has gone before.
This year, in response to our complaining of a lack of transparency I, along with the Lib Dem lead spokesman, have received two private briefings from Cllr Jones and officers to update us on the current position. Plans to create a trust were never mentioned. On Tuesday Lord Warner, the architect of the Improvement Plan, was asked if a trust was “the next logical step”, as Cllr Jones would have it and he replied “not really.”
It is clear that the Improvement Plan has not worked and that the broken culture of
Birmingham Children’s services cannot be fixed from within the Council. By her own words with is not what Cllr Jones wished for or intended – in fact none of us wanted this. Rather than trying to spin her way out of a difficult situation by pretending that everything is on track, Cllr Jones should do the decent thing and resign. Birmingham must be able to protect its children and have confidence in a leadership that is able to ensure this happens.
At the time of posting, Birmingham city council had not issued a statement following last night’s Dispatches programme. The programme did contain several excerpts of a written statement from the council.
Cllr Jones was among several senior council figures retweeting a statement from Birmingham Children in Care Council during and after transmission of the programme, headlined “we are not entertainment.”
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