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SALFORD COUNCIL SHAMEFUL CHILDRENS SERVICES
 

Star date: 18th August 2011

JILL BAKER V SALFORD COUNCIL

"SHAMEFUL…POOR PRACTICE" AS SALFORD'S VULNERABLE KIDS PUT AT RISK

"I was answerable, I had to take responsibility" John Merry, who never resigned over Salford's `inadequate' Children's Services

For up to four years or more, Salford's most vulnerable children were put at greater risk due to "shameful…poor practice" within Salford Council Children's Services an Employment Tribunal heard yesterday.

Jill Baker, the former Director of Children's Services, is taking Salford Council to the Tribunal with her case for unfair dismissal, and yesterday, John Merry, Leader of Salford Council, was the latest to stick the knife into Mrs Baker's back…

`Et tu, Brute?' Click here…


Barrister: Did the buck stop with you?
Jill Baker: John Merry said that buck stops with him and the Chief Executive, Barbara Spicer…"

It's not yet the Ides of March but this week's Employment Tribunal which is hearing Jill Baker's case for unfair dismissal against Salford Council is almost Shakespearean.

On Monday, Councillor David Lancaster criticised Jill Baker's "capability", and yesterday it was Salford Council Leader John Merry's turn to tell how he lost "trust and confidence" in her as Salford Council's Children's Services went into meltdown following the Serious Case Review of the tragic Demi Leigh Mahon murder (for background see here).

All week, barristers, councillors and Jill Baker herself have been giving a shocking insight into the turmoil, chaos and dangerous practices going on for years behind the closed doors of Salford Council's Children's Services - exposed in real time by the Salford Star in numerous articles.*

The Tribunal heard that with regards to safeguarding Salford's most vulnerable children, "poor practice was custom and practice" dating back to 2005.

Jill Baker said that "poor practice was seen as acceptable" in the child protection system due to "increasing resource issues" which meant that council workers were reluctant to move vulnerable children higher up the scale of the `at risk' register….

"There was an awareness even before the DLM [Demi Leigh Mahon] case that because of pressures on social workers there was a tendency to under investigate a number of children at risk" she said "…There was a potential that some of the children were at increased risk."

Salford Council's barrister responded that this was "Shameful"…

"Regrettable, not shameful" replied Jill Baker.

The Tribunal heard how Mrs Baker had presided over safeguarding "poor practice" in Salford's Children's Services since she had taken over the whole department in 2005.

Despite having a three star rating from external inspections, Salford was operating with a 40% shortage of front line social workers, and Jill Baker said that she had "begun to have doubts" about the service she had inherited… "I began to have suspicions…they were gradual…I couldn't pinpoint a date."

Salford Council's barrister suggested that this "poor custom and practice was allowed to continue for three years"…

In the wake of the scandal surrounding the Serious Case Review into the death of Demi Leigh Mahon, and Salford Council officials being dragged to London to answer to the Government Minister, Jill Baker said she concluded that her assistant, Paul Woltman, was "not up to the job" of changing things… "He was less good than I was led to believe". Woltman subsequently chose to take `early retirement'.

John Merry, Leader of Salford Council, giving evidence, said he had "grave concerns" about the "systematic" problems within the Children's Services Directorate, despite statistics showing improvements…

"My concern all the time was that inspections would reveal further shortcomings in what we were doing" he said "I always felt that Mrs Baker was doing a good job with schools but not with safeguarding; she should have done more to change the culture of social workers…"

Jill Baker was suspended and subsequently dismissed, only in the wake of the Demi Leigh Mahon (DLM) Serious Case Review report, and the media being informed before the Council that no-one would be disciplined for the shortcomings of the department.

Jill Baker's barrister questioned the timing of the dismissal, suggesting it was a result of political pressure, with media calls for the resignation of Councillor John Warmisham, Lead Member for Children's Services, and with the media outcry over Baby P in Haringey.

The murder of DLM had taken place a year before the Serious Case Review, yet John Merry hadn't mentioned any criticism of social workers to Jill Baker ("I didn't have the full facts in front of me") and Councillor John Warmisham hadn't mentioned any criticism of Mrs Baker to her in their weekly meetings, despite saying he had lost "trust and confidence" in her at the later disciplinary hearing.

"He was making it up" said Mrs Baker, adding "It was convenient for them if I left the Council at that time…"

The implication all along has been that Jill Baker was made a scapegoat to save the neck of others who should have been accountable and who should have resigned.

Mrs Baker's barrister asked whether John Merry had come across a report from a Professor Jones which was critical of Salford Council's Chief Executive, Barbara Spicer…

"I'm not aware of any criticism of Barbara Spicer" he replied.

Later the Council's barrister asked Jill Baker where the accountability lay for safeguarding Salford's children…

"With me for the quality of services" she replied, adding "John Merry said the buck stops with him and his Chief Executive – they are the top line of accountability."

Indeed, earlier, John Merry said "I was answerable, I have to take responsibility and have to take action…"

The hearing continues until Friday this week…

* Since 2006, the Salford Star has repeatedly called for the resignation of Jill Baker, when Director of Social Services; Councillor John Warmisham, when Lead Member for Children's Services; Barbara Spicer, as Chief Executive - whose responsibility was to ensure senior managers "accept and address concerns brought to their attention"…

…and John Merry, Leader of Salford City Council, whose responsibility was to "Ensure that the Council gives priority to safeguarding children coherently and consistently in service planning and resource allocation" (from Salford Council's own `safeguarding roles and responsibility' document amended in 2006). For full article see here…

See also Salford Star Calls for Resignations click here

See Salford Council Resignation Fall Out click here...

See OFSTED Slates Children's Services click here

See Salford Children's Services Meltdown click here

See Salford Social Services Slated click here
 

Salford Star wrote
at 06:14:29 on 07 September 2011
See Concerned Parent comment below...The case is continuing and is back in court in October. Hope this helps...
 
concerned parent wrote
at 06:10:14 on 07 September 2011
can Salford Start update the readership on this story, its all gone rather quite, it feels like the council has settled out of court, how much as this costs the tax payers??? concerned parent
 
A Salford Parent wrote
at 06:09:48 on 07 September 2011
Salford Childrens Services has now moved out of Minerva House and into the Salford Council Civic Centre. They now have no proper reception at Minerva house they had a large 50" TV in their reception and it was obvious they had lots of meetings. Now they cannot even organise school admissions competently. I think Schools and School admissions previously a task of the LEA (Local Education Authority)is a core requirement of 'Childrens Services' I expect that central government will soon have to takeover the running of Salford Council it is so dire. From bad to worse. John Merry and Barbara Slicer when can my children go to school ?
 
mary ferrer wrote
at 08:20:48 on 02 September 2011
One of the many things that worries me is, while all this "he said this and she did that" what is happening NOW within childrens services. The last Ofsted report said they were inadequate this was AFTER Merry and Spicer took over the responsibility of this department so they CAN'T get it right either. What is happening to our vunerable children have the council NOW got it right or are they still CRAP and if they are still crap what is happening within childrens services,because this has and still worries me greatly.
 
john wrote
at 20:37:29 on 20 August 2011
I served on the appeals panel that heard this case originally, and whilst I was comfortable with the dismissal, I was not happy with the GROUNDS (ie gross misconduct) I felt at the time, and still feel, that dismissal on grounds of CAPABILITY would have been more appropriate.
 
Dave Young wrote
at 10:48:27 on 18 August 2011
This time the bullshit , bluster and bluff carries on in open court , for all to witness , and not in a secret behind closed doors meeting .What an unsavoury bunch of back-stabbing hypocrites .No wonder this city is in such a disgraceful mess with inept goons like this lot in charge . All involved in this disgraceful business should be sacked , and no cosy pay-offs with council taxpayers money . GOOD RIDDANCE TO THE PARASITES .
 
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