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Lord Warner, ‘Birmingham’s favourite commissioner’ proposes yet another reorganisation of children’s social services

Lord Warner, ‘Birmingham’s favourite commissioner’ proposes yet another reorganisation of children’s social services

🕔12.Jun 2014

When he was appointed a government commissioner with the tough job of sorting out Birmingham’s failing children’s social services, it seemed unlikely that Lord Norman Warner would go down a storm with city council leaders.

Although nominally a Labour peer, the 73-year-old public school-educated former Health Minister has a track record of annoying the party faithful. He is a member of the advisory board of Reform, the pro-market thinktank, and recently suggested an NHS ‘membership scheme’ whereby most people would pay £10 a month to fund preventative health services.

This led to speculation that Warner had been shipped into Birmingham by Education Secretary Michael Gove with a remit to farm out council social care to the private sector. And, let’s face it, after spending more than five years in special measures and suffering appalling publicity from 20 Serious Case Reviews into child deaths in seven years, anything is possible for the council.

It now appears that predictions about his right-wing credentials were exaggerated, for Lord Warner has been embraced by none other than city council chief executive Mark Rogers, who took to Twitter to sing the praises of the man who has suddenly become Birmingham’s favourite commissioner.

With a link to a Guardian newspaper article about how Warner is approaching the Birmingham job, Rogers announced triumphantly: “This is why we prefer a commissioner to Ofsted.”

Mr Rogers clearly hasn’t taken too kindly to Ofsted, whose highly critical Trojan Horse report about militant Muslim infiltration of Birmingham schools was published this week.

In April, Rogers attempted to explain the issue away to Chamberlain Files as simple misunderstanding by Birmingham’s ‘new communities’ who wanted to replicate the type of education they would get at home.

Ofsted didn’t see it that way at all, and found that a climate of “fear and intimidation” exists in some Birmingham schools and accused the council of failing to deal with complaints about the misconduct of governors.

Warner isn’t Birmingham’s sole commissioner. A second Government-appointed commissioner, Peter Clarke, former Metropolitan Police counter-terrorism commander, will publish his Trojan Horse report next month.

The most interesting aspect of the Guardian interview is the disclosure that Lord Warner is pushing for yet another reorganisation of children’s social care in Birmingham, even though Ofsted has complained about the impact a string of disruptive management changes have had on staff.

Warner is reportedly looking at addressing Birmingham’s ‘size problem’ and has concluded that the city is far too large to have a single social services directorate. This, interestingly, is much the same tack as that taken by Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw, who last year forecast that Birmingham would have to be split up into smaller, more manageable, authorities.

Wilshaw also branded Birmingham’s record on child welfare a “national disgrace”, which may go a long way to explain why Ofsted is hardly flavour of the month in Mark Rogers’ office.

Lord Warner has described the reorganisation of social work teams in Birmingham in 2012-13 “disastrous” because it meant there was no proper supervision of practice, while creation of a single, city-wide “front door” for new referrals, relying on unqualified staff, had led to urgent cases being missed or delayed.

That particular reorganisation, the latest in a long line and approved by the three main political parties, was described by the council at the time as a revolutionary move that would solve Birmingham’s problems and would probably be copied by other local authorities.

Warner argues that Birmingham’s population of 1.1 million makes it simply too big to be run as a single children’s services authority, he says – it is “bound to fail”.

He aims to repeat what he did as director of social services in Kent by breaking up children’s services into three or four component areas, each equivalent to a medium-sized authority elsewhere and each with its own directorate running teams returned to their traditional size.

And in another U-turn for the city council, Warner wants to increase the number of children thought to be at risk who are being referred to social services. The strategy from about 2009 to 2012 was to reduce numbers through a policy of early intervention, identifying children who might in future be at risk and putting in measures to help them and their families.

This, it was argued, would save money in the long run by keeping children on the path to adulthood away from the police, courts and care homes.

It was Professor Julian Le Grand, a government-appointed social care expert, who pointed out in his review of Birmingham children’s social services that referral figures are far too low for such a large city. The assumption is that scores, possibly hundreds, of youngsters at risk are falling through the net.

Warner told the Guardian: “There are not enough kids coming into the system and there’s not enough speed through the system,” he says. “You’ve got to have more kids being case-conferenced, more kids being put on child protection plans.

“Referrals from police and education look fine, but referral numbers from the NHS don’t. Given how many GP practices and hospitals there are in Birmingham, I would expect the numbers to be higher. We need to find out why they aren’t.”

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