WALTER CRONXITE reports on another local government Carr crash over failures to provide adequate social services
The pressure is mounting this weekend on Tony Newman, the Labour leader of Croydon Council, over his and council officials’ response to the highly critical Ofsted report on the borough’s children’s services department.
Newman will come under fire in the Town Hall chamber on Monday when the full council holds an extraordinary meeting over probably the greatest crisis for the council since the 2011 riots.
And Newman’s position will not have been made any stronger after news from neighbouring Bromley, where his counterpart as leader of that council, Stephen Carr, handed in his resignation yesterday over similarly troubling issues arising from a critical Ofsted report into that council’s social services.
Conservative-run Bromley had its Ofsted inspection of its children services department in April last year. The findings were as dire as in the Croydon report published a fortnight ago.
At the time of the release of the Bromley report, Carr made the same sort of noises which Newman has spouted in the last couple of weeks, expressing confidence in his council officials’ ability to turn things around and shrugging off any suggestion that there would be need of resignations.
But last week Justine Greening, the Tory government’s education secretary, declared that Bromley is “still failing” to provide adequate children’s services, particularly in regards to social services.
Like Croydon, since it was found to be “inadequate” in caring for some of its borough’s most vulnerable children, Bromley has had a commissioner appointed by the Secretary of State to peer over the shoulders of council workers and rustle through their paperwork and files. The Bromley inspector, Frankie Sulke, found there had been “positive improvements” since last year, but that “the Secretary of State remains satisfied that the council is still failing to perform to an adequate standard, some or all of the functions”.
On Tuesday, Greening issued a direction ordering Bromley to comply with any instructions issued by the Department for Education; to ensure that the independent chair of the council’s improvement board reports in writing to the Secretary of State once every three months; and ensure that the deputy chief executive of the council’s focus is directed exclusively towards improved delivery of children’s social care functions.
Initially, Carr welcomed these recommendations. “This decision indicates a real confidence in what we are doing to continue our stated trajectory towards providing excellent services to our young people.”
Less than 48 hours later, the decision had been made that Carr should quit as council leader.
Carr – who is in a relationship with Croydon councillor Sara Bashford – is mindful that there are local elections next May. “In no way is this decision defeatist, I am resigning now to give our new leader enough time to establish a mandate ahead of the elections in May,” he told one Bromley newspaper.
And then the arse-covering bit: “Of course I was never concerned about my position as leader, I have been regularly re-elected by my party members, I just feel it is time for someone else to take over,” Carr said.
There are local elections in Croydon, too, in eight months’ time. Where this becomes tricky for Newman is that the commissioner appointed to look into Croydon’s children’s services, Eleanor Brazil, is due to issue her progress report in December.
If, as seems highly likely, Brazil is less than impressed with the efforts made to improve children’s services in Croydon – the council executive director responsible, Barbara Peacock, is supposed to have been working on problems within the department since July 2016 – then Newman’s position will be seen to have become untenable. And the countdown to the Town Hall elections will make the political damage to the Croydon Labour Party all the greater.
The Labour group of councillors had a “difficult” meeting on Thursday night. It was unusual for the absence of Jo Negrini, the too-powerful council chief executive who attends most of the Labour group’s meetings to keep a check on what her (supposedly) political masters might be getting up to.
Negrini’s absence meant that some councillors felt able to speak more freely than usual. During the meeting, there were calls for councillors to take a firmer grip on the conduct and performance of the council’s professional staff. Newman was criticised, albeit indirectly, for his failure to apologise adequately for the council’s failings and his refusal to criticise the performance of council officials.
Yesterday’s resignation of a similarly unapologetic council leader in Bromley will only serve to underline the jeopardy which Newman is trying to navigate. His performance in the Town Hall chamber on Monday night – the first time Croydon’s 70 councillors have been summoned to a full council in three months – will be watched very carefully.
- Damning verdict on Croydon’s ‘inadequate’ children’s services
- Commissioner appointed to oversee children’s services
- Negrini tells staff: ‘There are some things that we don’t do well’
- Two key figures leave council over Ofsted inspectors’ report
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