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