In the fall out from the Demi Legh Mahon tragedy and consecutive OFSTED criticism of Salford Council's ability to safeguard vulnerable children, Jill Baker, Director of Salford's Children's Services has today been sacked.
The full statement from Councillor Bill Hinds, who headed the cross party disciplinary panel, reads…
"Jill Baker has been summarily dismissed from her position as Strategic Director of Children's Services for gross misconduct. The dismissal will take place with immediate effect.
"The unanimous decision by a cross-party panel of councillors, and endorsed by the authority's cabinet, follows Mrs Baker's suspension in September in order that a disciplinary investigation could be carried out.
"The panel was told there had been a loss of trust and confidence by the chief executive Barbara Spicer, council leader Cllr John Merry, and lead member Cllr John Warmisham, in Mrs Baker's ability to lead and manage the Children's Services directorate.
"This meant she was unable to honour the terms of her contract, which is a fundamental breach of contract and therefore gross misconduct. The decision to summarily dismiss was not made lightly but was done so based on the evidence and representations from both the employer and employee. Mrs Baker has the right to appeal against the decision.
"The panel also considered a grievance by Mrs Baker. An allegation of bullying was rejected unanimously by the panel as unfounded. Some issues were partially upheld in relation to certain HR processes not adequately followed. The council has apologised to Mrs Baker for these failings. These findings had no bearing on the decision to dismiss."
The statement adds "The council will not be making any further comment on this issue."
However, while the Salford Star sheds no tears for Jill Baker - whose resignation the magazine called for two years ago when the safeguarding children issues were first highlighted – the question has to be asked whether the former Director of Children's Services is being made a scapegoat, while others who were directly accountable survive.
As we pointed out in September, Salford Council actually drew up a list of exact roles and responsibilities for Safeguarding Children, which was amended in 2006 and included…
1. The Leader of the Council: Ensure that the Council gives priority to safeguarding children coherently and consistently in service planning and resource allocation.
2. The Cabinet Lead for Children's Services: Ensure that the Council's Children's Services responsibilities are properly considered, supported and monitored by the Cabinet…Work with the Director of Children's Services to ensure the Directorate is adequately funded and staffed to deliver these priorities…
3. The Chief Executive: Make sure statutory inter-agency arrangements are in place…and ensure there is an open culture between local agencies and good direct communications between senior managers so that they accept and address concerns brought to their attention.
4. The Director of Children's Services: Ensure that the directorate has access to a range of effective, efficient and flexible services that protect and support vulnerable children and their families.
5. The Director of Community, Health and Social Care: Ensure that staff delivering social care services to adults are watchful for any child protection issues in families they are dealing with.
6. Local Safeguarding Children Board: The inter-agency group with responsibility for agreeing how the different services and professional groups should co-operate to safeguard children in Salford, and for making sure that arrangements work effectively to bring about good outcomes for children.
While Jill Baker, the Director of Children's Services and Chair of the Local Safeguarding Children Board, has been sacked...
* Why hasn't John Merry the `Leader of the Council' who was to "ensure that the Council gives priority to safeguarding children coherently and consistently in service planning and resource allocation" resigned?
* Why hasn't John Warmisham, Cabinet Lead for Children's Services resigned? He was to "ensure that the Council's Children's Services responsibilities are properly considered, supported and monitored by the Cabinet…Work with the Director of Children's Services to ensure the Directorate is adequately funded and staffed to deliver these priorities…"
* And why hasn't Barbara Spicer, Chief Executive of Salford Council resigned? She was to "Make sure statutory inter-agency arrangements are in place…and ensure there is an open culture between local agencies and good direct communications between senior managers so that they accept and address concerns brought to their attention".
Surely after all these constant criticisms of Children's Services and the tragic death of a toddler, there has been "a loss of trust and confidence" and in the ability of Councillors Warmisham and Merry, and Barbara Spicer – as well as Jill Baker - "to lead and manage the Children's Services directorate"?
Today OFSTED again criticises Salford Council in its annual letter about Children's Services…
"The unannounced inspection of contact, referral and assessment services carried out in July 2009 identified some key weaknesses. There were significant weaknesses in the processes for assessing the needs of vulnerable children. In addition, the inspectors were unable to establish from records that action had been taken to ensure that a small number of children were free from the risk of harm."
UPDATED HERE 14TH DECEMBER 2009