Inside the Council: Inadequate schools are a huge problem

Council chambers at Halifax town hall
Council chambers at Halifax town hall

Calderdale Council has a very serious problem. Some would say the council has a lot of these.

I am not talking, however, about madcap traffic schemes, library discontentment or even bizarre parking policies.

It is more serious than all of these.

Since 2009, every Ofsted inspection of Children’s Care Services has given Calderdale a rating of inadequate, the worst possible score.

You only have to pick up a newspaper or watch the news to realise the potential dangers associated with inadequate protection being given to the most vulnerable children in our community.

We, in Calderdale, share many demographic similarities with places like Oldham, Rochdale and Keighley where the highly publicised grooming cases have been unearthed.

Our towns also have pockets of deprivation, very similar to the areas where children have tragically died at the hands of cruel parents.

Although we in Calderdale have, so far, avoided such tragedies, why have we failed to improve?

It is not as if we are not trying because some councillors are.

I’m also convinced that our front line social workers are trying hard.

A large part of the problem is the political structure and political game playing which goes on in the council.

Because of the constantly changing leadership and the lack of domination by any single party, no long term decisions are ever carried through and there is no stability.

In my time on the council there have been four Directors of Children’s Services (two leaving by ‘mutual understanding’), three management reorganisations, involving a dozen new faces, four different Cabinet members with social care responsibility, five scrutiny committee chairs (I was one of these), and four different ‘coalitions’ running the council.

Every year we launch new strategies and initiatives, to replace the ones that were created the previous year.

What can be done?

A lot of these changes are brought at election time and although the main parties say that there is no ‘politics in children’s care’, they need to show that they mean it!

The council needs to adopt a new philosophy.

The cabinet member should be selected from the whole council, by an outside body if necessary, and be the best person for the job, irrespective of political party.

He/she should be appointed for four years and must be an experienced councillor.

The same criteria should apply to the scrutiny chair. Members of the scrutiny panel should serve for their whole term of office.

This longevity and stability would prevent the re-learning of roles every year.

Einstein said that ‘repeating the same experiment and yet expecting a different result is a sign of madness’.

We cannot, for the protection of our vulnerable children, continue to repeat the same errors.

If we cannot take the politics out of it, we should hand our Children’s Services over to a charity or an independent trust to make a proper job of it, because the Council, under the current system, cannot.

A parking charges dilemma

Many councils have got themselves in a bit of a pickle (not an Eric Pickle) about parking charges,

Calderdale is no exception. A recent high court ruling stated that it was illegal for councils to use parking revenue surpluses to fund general expenditure.

All the recent pronouncements from the responsible cabinet member, the Director of Economy and Environment and Parking Services management (I think I’m about to make myself unpopular) have emphasised the use of parking fees to improve and maintain car parks, which is of course legal.

I remember sitting in a presentation, for the Parking Review, when a picture of a cartoon cow was projected onto the big screen with £ symbols flowing from every orifice! I kid you not.

So, which is reality? You decide.

More trouble than its worth

Persimmon Homes, with the councils design approval, have redesigned the junction of St Giles Road and Wakefield Road in Lightcliffe.

It is now impossible for lorries with trailers to enter or exit St Giles Road without blocking the whole junction.

It is also impossible for two cars to use the junction at the same time, thus leaving cars stranded in the middle of Wakefield Road as sitting targets for the frequently speeding traffic.

Changes to the design are now being made. My thought was, if the council can’t design a simple T-junction without danger to life and limb, what chance has the £3.5 million scheme for Hipperholme crossroads.

Well, no chance obviously! It certainly can’t be put right afterwards.

Ditch the scheme now before any damage is done.

BY Councillor Colin Raistrick