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Council leader woos Chinese in Brussels, leaving deputy to face grim social services news

Council leader woos Chinese in Brussels, leaving deputy to face grim social services news

🕔30.Jun 2015

Sir Albert Bore sent his apologies to yesterday’s Birmingham council cabinet meeting because he had to be in Brussels to deliver a speech to an audience which included EU President Jean-Claude Juncker and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.

As far as excuses and name dropping does, you could hardly fault Albert for sacrificing chairing yet another difficult cabinet meeting in favour of ten minutes on the world stage with the Chinese prime minister.

“Would love to have been with you, but simply had to catch up with Jean-Claude and Li”, is how the conversation with his council colleagues might have gone.

As it happens Sir Albert’s Brussels trip aptly symbolises the sublime and ridiculous nature of Birmingham city council.

The leader is off, rightly, selling Birmingham as being at the forefront of a ground-breaking economic and cultural exchange with China, while back at home the cabinet is getting the latest grim news about a Government-imposed improvement panel and the continuing downward spiral of children’s social services.

On the economic front Birmingham, at least the city centre, has a good story to tell.

Sir Albert certainly bigged it up to the Chinese premier:

There is an exciting future ahead with regards to growth and investment potential in Birmingham.

We have spent a very successful 25 years restructuring our local economy and diversifying our economic potential as a city. We are no longer reliant on the automotive sector although it remains a key strength.

Our future plans include Birmingham being home to the new High Speed 2 base and college and will be an important new hub that will connect Birmingham to London in just 40 minutes.

We have a thriving tech sector and are developing a new environmental district and new life sciences campus. Whilst our record and history of working with China is a good one, looking forward, there is a huge sense of excitement and recognition that Birmingham is becoming the UK’s number one investment location.

The future opportunities to enhance existing relationships and develop new investment partnerships are significant and my message to you all is that Birmingham is the best placed UK city to do this and is open for business.

Meanwhile, back at the cabinet, deputy council leader Ian Ward, in his engagingly open and honest manner, conceded that the council would be hitting most of its improvement targets if only it was not for children’s social care.

Of the 21 measures agreed for improving services for vulnerable children, only five have hit the target. Some of the remaining 16 are heading in a reverse direction.

Taking the 50 council-wide improvement targets into account, during 2014-15 half were not met and progress against them deteriorated.

Sir Albert and his colleagues have invented a new mantra about Birmingham only being a short way into a three year improvement plan for children’s social care under the leadership of Commissioner Lord Norman Warner. There is almost an expectation that things might get worse before they get better, which will be a familiar course of events to those of us that have followed the children’s social services debacle for 15 years.

More money is being poured into services for vulnerable children after years of the council insisting that money wasn’t the problem. A further £31 million will be invested this year, with social services the only council department exempted from spending cuts.

But drill down into the target measures and it becomes clear that performance in some areas has dipped alarmingly in the course of a year.

  • Children in care cases reviewed on time stood at 67 per cent during 2014-15, below target by 28 per cent, which is bad enough, but some 27 per cent worse than last year, which is awful.
  • Just under 70 per cent of child protection cases were reviewed within timescales, below target by 28.5 per cent and 26.4 per cent worse than last year.
  • The proportion of initial child protection conferences held in timescale was 47 per cent below target and 31 per cent worse than March 2014. The usual problems of getting social workers, health professionals, teachers and police together have been blamed as well as a shortage of rooms where telephone conferences can be staged.

The churn of senior social services management has been addressed, we are assured, and the council is managing to recruit new social workers. The multi-agency safeguarding hubs bringing together all of the professionals for early intervention with families at risk are beginning to make a difference, it is claimed.

A quartet of experts – Sir Albert, cabinet member Brigid Jones, chief executive Mark Rogers and Commissioner Warner – are overseeing on an almost daily basis the children’s services rescue plan.

So this time next year performance against the improvement targets will be soaring upwards, and Sir Albert will have even more to boast about to the Chinese.

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