Category Archives: Public Services

A Response to the CELS Report

Dear Sir

 ttendance at council meetings often opens the lid on how our Councils are run. The Children, Education, Libraries and Safeguarding committee of Barnet Council on 18 July was no exception.

 1                     The order paper ran to 260 pages. Clearly this committee is overburdened with responsibilities. It needs to be subdivided. “Children” included a damning indictment by an Ofsted report of Barnet’s acknowledgedly inadequate children’s services. Pages 240/241 described the council’s aim to deliver quality services, the statutory duties of the Council and the risk management necessary. Thus councillors are informed of the appalling risks being taken by pursuing illegal policies. Yet they have been doing this as part of a mistaken library strategy since 2002, unchecked by either the Secretary of State for Culture or by rumblings from opposition councillors, the media or the Four Barnet Bloggers who, in response to the Ofsted revelations, have called upon the Chair Reuben Thompstone to resign.

2                     The meeting dwelt at length on the Ofsted report. Chris Munday, the Strategic Director for Children and young People, was questioned by members of the committee on current plans to improve services.

3                     The imminent time bomb was left ticking of how library services, arguably in breach of the council’s statutory duty under the 1964 Act to provide a comprehensive and efficient public library service, are currently the subject of a report by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), to the Secretary of State for Culture Karen Bradley. Watch this space.

4                     Clearly lots to do. Islington in contrast to Barnet received an Ofsted report on its outstanding leadership, so good models are at hand.

5                     The CELS committee has four co-opted members. It would benefit hugely by co-opting pillars of the community with local experience rather than employing expensive consultants without such local knowledge.

Keith Martin

Press Release – A joint statement from the Barnet Bloggers

“There are widespread and serious failures in the services provided to children and their families in Barnet. Inspectors identified a legacy of widespread poor practice and ongoing systemic failures and services that neither adequately ensure the safety, nor promote the welfare of children and young people”. 

Ofsted Inspection Report on Barnet Children’s Service July 2017

Over nearly a decade of scrutiny by Barnet bloggers, we have investigated and reported the seemingly endless sequence of scandals, blunders, and political folly created by Barnet’s Conservative councillors. The incomprehensible tale of the MetPro fiasco, the disgraceful confiscation of travel passes for disabled residents, the cutting of vital respite care for children at Mapledown School, which cares for children with profound disabilities, the illegal CPZ parking charges, are only some of the many examples of administrative incompetence – and worse – that we have exposed and pursued.

 In all this time, in response to all of these disastrous situations, not one Conservative member has taken responsibility for the failure in services to what are very often the most vulnerable members of our community.

No one could be more vulnerable than a child: especially a child in care, whose well being has become the responsibility of the local authority, standing as a corporate parent.

Yet now we see the emergence of a most damning report from OFSTED, one that slates the provision of care services in Barnet for such children: a report that should shame any local authority, and would – anywhere else but in Barnet.

“The vast majority of care planning is ineffective. There is a lack of focus on measuring progress for children or their outcomes. When there is no progress, this is not re-evaluated or escalated effectively. This leads to drift and delay. This is particularly stark for a significant number of children who are victims of chronic long-term neglect and emotional abuse, who do not have the impact of this risk recognised, responded to or reduced, despite spending long periods subject to child protection planning … ”.

“Young people who go missing from care receive a poor service, because social workers do not find out enough about the risks to them. This means that young people who go missing are not always kept safe enough from dangers, such as gangs or adults sexually exploiting them”.

In any circumstances where there has been proven wrongdoing, or a failure in standards, it is usually the case, in Barnet, that officers are held responsible, and those elected members tasked with the responsibility – and paid generous allowances for those duties –of overseeing the enforcement of their own policies remain distanced from the consequences of their actions. We believe that this is wrong, and that councillors should be held accountable.

In this case, we believe, the fault lies in a serious failure in leadership, oversight and scrutiny by the Children, Education, Libraries and Safeguarding Committee, chaired by Conservative councillor Reuben Thompstone.

The same committee was responsible for the Mapledown cuts – later reversed, after protests from parents, and a public outcry; and was also the instrument of approval for the devastating programme of cuts to our library service, presented to residents as mere ‘refurbishment’, but which has seen the closure of children’s libraries, and the removal of access for under sixteen year olds from any library operating the newly unstaffed hours.

It seems to us that under this Conservative administration, children are seen not as our most precious asset, but an easy target for cuts, and the lowering of standards meant to ensure their protection, and wellbeing.

In 2014 Tory members approved a cost cutting restructuring of Family Services which has resulted in the use of agency social workers soaring from none in 2013, to £3.05 million per annum in 2016/17.

With the average agency social worker staying just 202 days, there has been a constant turnover of staff, and throughout this period, Children’s Services have been under constant pressure to meet the budget savings forecast.

We believe that pressure on budgets for local social workers responsible for ensuring the safety of young people has lead to the near destruction of the service, and a situation where there are simply not the resources to ensure vulnerable young people are given the life chances they deserve.

This cannot possibly be in the best interests of the children of this borough.

We therefore make the following suggestions:

1.     That there must be a full open, transparent, and independent public inquiry into what went wrong.

2.     This inquiry must include a forensic audit of all correspondence between the Conservative administration and officers, regarding Children’s Services, to ensure that political interference has not, and cannot in future, prejudice the standard of care.

3.     This inquiry should be concluded prior to May 2018, to allow the people of Barnet to pass their own judgement on the administration.

4.     We call for the resignation of the Councillor in charge of Children’s Services, Cllr Reuben Thompstone.

Signed,

Derek Dishman (http://lbbspending.blogspot.co.uk/)

John Dix (http://reasonablenewbarnet.blogspot.co.uk/)

Theresa Musgrove (http://wwwbrokenbarnet.blogspot.co.uk/)

 

Notes to Editors.

  1. This blog has been jointly written by the four Barnet bloggers in response to the recently released OFSTED report into Barnet Council childrens services.
  2. All four Barnet Bloggers are listed as  Guardian Top London bloggers – https://www.theguardian.com/uk/series/dave-hill-top-london-bloggers  – and their work as “armchair auditors” has been recognised by the former local government minister Eric Pickles.

All queries : Roger Tichborne 07754 910425 or for individual queries by email to the bloggers email listed in the CC line

Messages of Solidarity for “Barnet Two” email contactus@barnetunison.org.uk

18342733_10155078055521206_1978186995523180223_nPLEASE SUPPORT.

As a result of consultation we have now learnt that the two welfare rights workers (now to be referred to as the “Barnet Two”) are not being sacked in order to make CUTS, they are being sacked because vulnerable families will get a better service without them!

Before I address the issue of why it is so wrong to sack the Welfare Rights workers I want to highlight this scene in Ken Loach’s BAFTA Award winning film “I, Daniel Blake”

This scene shows the daily humiliating life experiences people in need are facing.

I’m referring to this scene, because the Barnet Council proposal is to move away from helping to sign posting. It sounds good in the highly paid consultancy circle world. BUT the grim reality this is not just a cut for two workers it is a cruel cut that will deny access to the vital information, advocacy and support for the most vulnerable families in Barnet.

Before Barnet UNISON found out that this was NOT a financial saving, we would have referred the Council back to the uncontrollable Agency/consultancy worker costs which have gone from a round £7.3 million in 2012 to 19.8 million by March 2017.

“I have heard of Barnet Council’s sackings of welfare rights officers and the closure of job centres. Does the Council have any idea of the cruelty of the treatment of vulnerable people? The DWP’s procedures are set up to trap and punish those who need support and advice. By these cuts, the Council is colluding in this conscious brutality. In solidarity, Ken Loach.”

On behalf of the Barnet Two and our branch I would like to once again thank Ken for his message of solidarity and support for the “Barnet Two” and his condemnation of the planned closures of job centres in Barnet.

“Why will this proposal cause hard to vulnerable families?”

In the past seven years there have been many changes in the way Advice in the London Borough of Barnet has been delivered.

The following organisations have either closed down or no longer do Welfare Rights Advice.

  1. Welfare Rights Unit (Barnet Council)
  2. Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) has closed five of their offices (a) Avenue House (b) Grahame Park (c) Finchley (d) Edgware Hospital (e) Dollis Valley hub. Currently, the New Barnet Office is only open on Mondays morning and is due to totally shut in October 2017. The only remaining CAB is the Hendon one which is also only opened three days a weeks
  3. CAB also used to operate a home visiting service which has also ceased.
  4. Barnet Law Service (Dealt with Welfare Rights Appeals)
  5. Mary Ward Legal Services (Dealt with Welfare Rights Appeals)
  6. East Barnet Advice Services
  7. Disability Action in the Borough of Barnet
  8. Mencap (substantially reduced service since 2013) This service refer to the two Welfare Rights workers for Appeals and complex cases
  9. Jewish Deaf Association Barnet (substantially reduce services now drop in sessions only on Tuesdays morning for people with hearing impairment)
  10. Mind Barnet
  11. Due to the Legal Aid cuts no Solicitors in Barnet do Welfare Rights Appeals.

The two Welfare Rights workers are the only service that still provides comprehensive/ impartial benefits Advice up to Appeals level in Barnet. Both statutory and non-statutory organisations refer to the above workers.

In consultation it has been put to Barnet UNISON that the service could be picked up by other organisations. What is clear is that the report does not appear to know what is being provided out there in our community.

Below are some of the organisation mentioned who could pick up the work left as a result of sacking the two welfare rights workers.

  1. Welfare Rights Task Force – Benefit Advisors only support clients affected by the benefit CAP and assist them with income and expenditure in order for them to apply for a Discretionary Housing Payment
  2. Employment Advisors do not specialise on welfare benefits, their remit is employment
  3. Shelter specialise in Housing and debts. They do not provide Welfare Rights Advice
  4. DWP is unable to help the majority of our clients as there may be a conflict of interest. We support client in taking cases to the Tribunal against DWP. There would be a conflict of interest, should the DWP provide welfare benefits advice. Welfare Benefit Advice exists to ensure that clients are made aware of their legal rights and represented in the event of disputes and maladministration of benefits.

Next actions:
On Tuesday 9 May at the Family Services JNCC Barnet UNISON declared a ‘failure to agree’ in response to the proposed sacking of the two welfare rights workers.

The matter has now been escalated to a meeting chaired by the Chief Executive.

If the proposal to sack the workers is not withdrawn the matter will be raised at General Functions Committee on 28 June where we will address the Leader of the Council.

Solidarity
John Burgess
Branch Secretary
Barnet UNISON

Messages of support and solidarity to contactus@barnetunison.org.uk

“Unsafe & Unsustainable”- Barnet UNISON speech to Barnet Councillors

barnet-unison-logo-e1462368170626The following speech was delivered to General Functions Committee,
on Tuesday 6th December at 7pm in Hendon Town Hall

“Dear members of the committee

I addressing you as both the branch secretary of Barnet UNISON, but also speaking as a service user of mental health services, indeed without the support I was given and the ongoing support I still receive today there is a strong likelihood I may not of been speaking to you this eveningjohn-t-shirt

It is also worth noting much quoted statistic that one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year.

I therefore speak not only as a worker but from personal experience of using mental health services.

I also want to make this point that I believe is often missed by elected members. I speaking to you all as employers not politicians. It is as an employer I am wanting to address our members, your staff concerns about the proposal before the committee this evening.

Firstly, I can confirm we are not opposed to the staff being brought back into the Council and we are fully supportive of the proposed social care model of intervention.

However when travelling across the borough it is impossible not to see the number of housing developments; and with it the increase in population; and with that the increased need for schools, NHS provision, social services to name but a few public services.

It is therefore highly dangerous to be proposing to cut Mental Health services at a time when the population is growing.

It is our view that the proposed cut of mental health social workers coupled with the increase in responsibilities will NOT lead to a safer service for service users, families and carers.

Barnet UNISON is extremely concerned about the reduction of social workers and the introduction of Assessment Enablement Officers (AEO).

In mental health staff are working with extremely complex and high risk individuals in situations where you need qualified experienced and knowledgeable staff.

Currently mental health social workers have significantly high caseloads (which includes the work connected to their statutory responsibilities in their Approved Mental Health Practitioner roles.

The cut in social workers will lead to greater pressure upon an already pressured staff group increasing the risk of more Serious Untoward Incidents (SUI) happening.

You will no doubt have been briefed that the Council is not making any social workers redundant, which is true; and you will have been told that the new proposal to replace qualified social workers with AEO’s will provide a better service.

With respect this premise is nonsense.

The proposal to cut mental health social workers is directly driven by NEED.

However, not by the NEEDS of service users and carers, but by the NEED to make Austerity cuts.

Lessons learnt

I would like to remind the committee that it was only two years ago when I addressed this same committee about the now infamous Family Services restructure. At that meeting I tried to convince members of the committee to extend the period of consultation as I was concerned the changes had been driven through in haste and that I feared there would be consequences for the service and the staff.  Unfortunately the committee chose accept the advice of senior officers who are now no longer working for the council. However I can report that the restructure had to be revisited as I predicted, there was a high turnover of experienced social work staff which then resulted in the recruitment crisis you now have in children’s social work.

 

Sometimes it is worth listening to UNISON.

 

We’ve been here before 18th February this year, Adults brought a similar proposal to cut social work posts, and use non-professionally qualified workers.

My members, your staff, describe feeling they are “flying by the seat of their pants”

The rationale put before this committee for cutting social work posts was that new Capita IT database “Mozaic” would deliver efficiencies. Well 10 months later this is not happening because “Mozaic”, once again has been pulled. There have been so many false starts with Mozaic if they had been a sprinter they’d have been disqualified from the Olympics by now.

 

Consultancy spend

I want members to take a look at agency/consultants spend.

Last year the council spent £18.2 million on agency/consultants. This figure is larger than the year before which was £17.9 million, which was significantly larger than the previous year which was £15.5million, which was previously larger than the previous year £13.7million which was previously larger than the previous year £12.5million.

In the last two quarters of this year the Council has already spent £13.7 million on agency/consultants which if the current pattern continues could see the Council break £20million.

It is our view that the Council needs to address this agency/consultancy uncontrollable spend in order to protect vital front line services and in this case drop the proposal to cut social work posts.

 

John Burgess

Branch Secretary

Barnet UNISON

TSSA says re-open ticket offices after Travelwatch report published

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Responding to the publication of Travelwatch’s Review into the impact of the ticket office closure programme on the Tube.

TSSA General Secretary Manuel Cortes said:

“We welcome the urgency which with London Mayor, Sadiq Khan wants to tackle the serious shortcomings identified in TravelWatch’s report. The truth is that Boris Johnson’s ill-conceived and badly executed ticket office closure programme has created many problems for passengers and for our members. Put simply, there is not enough staff on our Tube. We hope that TfL now address this without further delay.

“This report rightly highlights London’s passengers have been severely short changed by Boris Johnson’s culling of tstaff numbers on our Tube. Customer service has been thrown out of the window and the safety of passengers and staff alike has been severely compromised. We completely agree with TravelWatch’s conclusion that there must be a consistently visible staff presence in stations They also say that to do this, London Underground (LU) must introduce a focal point in every station where passengers know that staff can be located. We use to have this, it was called a Ticket Office. It’s time now for LU to reverse Boris’s short sighted and damaging closure programme and reopen the ticket offices!”

“Fighting tooth and nail” – a Barnet UNISON Film

John Burgess writes:

Whilst we have tried hard to support and represent our members the last 9 years have been painful, fun, tiring but invigorating but most of all it has been a privilege to have belonged to Barnet UNISON branch.

Austerity introduced mass outsourcing to our members and residents. I have never been prouder than when I have been at committee meetings with hundreds of residents or with residents with hundreds of questions.

Our members have had the courage to give it a go. To get up off our knees and at least stand up for what is right.

Sometimes we have lost and sometimes we have won, that is the way it is in Barnet UNISON.

But we can always look back and say that we have not gone missing.

We don’t leave anyone behind, even when we lost the big outsourcing to Capita and hundreds of our members were later made redundant as their jobs were scattered to the four winds. We stayed and supported, represented our members and we won some compensation for some of those who lost their jobs.

We can always say we didn’t avoid difficult decisions and we don’t run from a fight, we organise and we lead but always it must be the members who decide when and for how long we fight.

Outsourcing and job cuts has had a detrimental impact on worker and I have observed the workplace has become toxic environment. I point to the consultant’s catch phrase “More for less” as one of the most insidious and unhelpful jargon to emerge over the last decade.

“More for less” has in my opinion has contributed directly to “unsustainable and unsafe” work places; we are only just beginning to see the impact on workers mental health and wellbeing.

Over the past decade we have seen a high burn out of UNISON reps simply because the challenges and pressures that mass outsourcing brings are too much.

I have always believed in taking responsibility where you can and for me that has been in the London Borough of Barnet.

I have worked with so many wonderful and creative people both inside and outside UNISON. I have gained so much more from being in their company and most importantly listening and learning to what they have said or done.

It is in recognition of this experience and in an attempt to reflect on what has happened and think about my future and the future of the branch I have put together a film montage of the last decade in the life of Barnet UNISON. The film opens with Fremantle Care workers and campaign that shocked me and a campaign that still troubles me deeply nearly 9 years after it began. Their fight and the draconian cuts were later to be followed by the heroic Care UK 90 day strikers and our very own Your Choice Barnet care workers campaign.

Anyway enough from me.

The short film is just under 20 minutes long so make sure you have a nice drink, comfy seat you might have a few surprises from a few guest appearances.

 

Unions Lead Protests Against Rip-Off Train Fares

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Rail fares have risen twice as fast as wages since 2010, according to TUC research. Rail workers lead public protests at stations round the country.

TSSA General Secretary Manuel Cortes said:

“Our rail fares are already the highest in Europe and today’s increases will only make that record worse. It’s time that ministers gave rail passengers a break and actually froze fares in real terms.

“Fares on the most popular routes have jumped by more than 245% since rail was privatised 20 years ago. Running a publicly owned railway would end this annual mugging of passengers and give us a network run in the interests of passengers and staff.”

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