“ The game’s out there, and it’s play or get played. That simple”
Forget Birmingham’s children, the Le Grand review of Birmingham’s failing children’s social care department is part of a bigger national political game and Birmingham’s failings are Michael Gove’s opportunities.
Gove set out his agenda last November when he stated ‘I believe that we have not been either systematic, radical or determined enough in our efforts to reform the system of children’s social care in this country.’ (1) Going on to question why Children’s social care services needed to be provided by local councils.
All the better that Birmingham is a high profile Labour controlled council, that has been politically hamstrung by it’s failure to prioritise and improve services to vulnerable children in the city while simultaneously cutting them.
The well documented difficulties of social care services in the city over more than a ten year period and failure to adequately safeguard children have allowed the Government to appoint a Review Team whose brief included making proposals for alternative arrangements for delivering these critical services.
The Review has been led by Prof Julian Le Grand, and while nominally independent Le Grand has impeccable neo-liberal credentials as a champion of independent Social Work practices under the last New Labour Government and an exponent of competition and market forces within public provision.
A shortfall of resources has been identified as a critical issue in the Le Grand Review of children’s social care services in Birmingham which was published last week.
The independent review was appointed by the Government in November to report on the ability of the Council to make improvements to it’s safeguarding services after being rated as inadequate by repeated OFSTED inspections since 2009.
The underfunding of child social care in the city is identified as a likely factor affecting the relatively low rate of child protection referrals into the Department.
The report raises a current concern that there are a significant number of young people in need of protection who have not been referred to the council, what the report calls at ‘unidentified risk’.
The Reviewer’s compared the rates of referral and safeguarding activity between different council’s and found that there are a lower number of active child protection cases in Birmingham than should be expected.
In Birmingham the rate of child protection enquiries per 10,000 children for 2013 was 107.5 compared to the national average of 111.5. This rate of referral would also be expected to be higher in Birmingham due to the higher proportion of local children living in poverty and in low income families in the city.
The review authors raise the possibility that Birmingham has developed a high threshold criteria to cope with the under resourcing of safeguarding service.
Councillors at the Ladywood District Committee announced they had dropped plans to close Spring Hill Library due to the strength of opposition shown by the local community.
This is a stunning victory for campaigners who have been collecting names for their petition, organising public meetings, and lobbying councillors over the last two months. The petition against closure of Spring Hill obtained 2500 signatories, most collected next to the checkouts in Tesco.
The District Committee said that savings would be found elsewhere, and this raises the danger of moving other facilities into the Library building and reducing the library services, as well as further cuts to play centres or neighbourhood officers.
We say the District Committee should defy the council cabinet and set a district budget that protects all existing services under their control. this is the least which Ladywood deserves.
All power to the campaigners and the community for achieving the lifting of the closure threat. It shows once again that cuts can be defeated if the determination is there.
A large and noisy protest greeted councillors as they arrived for Tuesdays budget setting meeting. Campaigners from Birmingham against the Cuts, Communities against the Cuts, Disabled People against the Cuts, Black Activists Rising against the Cuts, Benefit Justice Campaign, Handsworth against the Cuts, and Friends of the Libraries of Birmingham were joined by UNISON and UNITE activists, and delegations from local campaigns over Laurel Road leisure centre, Tiverton Road baths, Moseley Road baths, and Spring Hill Library.
Speakers condemned the £85 million cuts as being targeted at all the most vulnerable groups in the city, the jobless, the young, the old and the disabled, contrary to Albert Bore’s promise to protect them.
The privatisation of adult services will leave both users and care workers at the mercy of unscrupulous private providers. The replacement of many trained workers with volunteers will leave users with a less reliable and inferior service.
Mark Jastrzenski from the Spring Hill library campaign stressed that the voluntary sector was already at full stretch and could not take on the role of full time trained staff.
Robert Brenchley from the Benefit Justice Campaign said that it was a scandal that even as the Bedroom Tax collapses Birmingham City Council still refuses to reclassify rooms or promise no evictions for bedroom tax arrears. A fight back would require building new organisations to challenge the austerity policies of the three main parties.
Godfrey Webster from BATC said that faced with another £200 million cut next year the only sensible choice for the council was to call a halt to cuts, set a deficit budget, organise a mass campaign with all the other big industrial cities, and challenge the government to dare send in commissioners to run all these cities in the face of organised obstruction.
Later anger in the public gallery boiled over as Albert Bore presented his budget and several protesters were roughly manhandled and evicted by security staff. The budget was approved against Tory and LibDem opposition, but with no labour councillors breaking ranks.