Councillor faces complaint after child protection questions

By Emily Pearce

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

 

A COUNCILLOR whose questions helped bring to light an investigation into a child’s death has been accused of exploiting the tragedy for political gain.

Conservative councillor Gary Taylor has made an official complaint against independent councillor Chris Welsford, accusing him of breaching the councillors' code of conduct by revealing confidential information and bringing his office into disrepute.

But Cllr Welsford hit back, claiming he acted in the public interest.

Cllr Taylor said: "If he had behaved in a proper and responsible fashion, he would have approached the lead member or director discreetly and voiced his concerns outside of a public forum, rather than cynically and shamefully using a child’s death to make political capital."

He chaired last week's children and young people scrutiny panel where Cllr Welsford raised concerns about a child's death, following a damning Ofsted report into child protection.

Cllr Welsford challenged a comment made last month by Cllr Barry Abraham, who said during a debate about Ofsted's findings that no child had died.

Although Cllr Welsford gave an incorrect date, it emerged a child died the following month and a Serious Case Review (SCR) had been launched, which would establish whether social services, the NHS and police had acted appropriately.

Cllr Welsford told the County Press: "This complaint is absolute rubbish. I raised my concerns with Ofsted first, and it was only through speaking out at the meeting that the council has said publicly there is an SCR ongoing.

"I did not raise it to score political points. I raised it out of shock and horror that Cllr Abraham did not know about this child's death.

"As corporate parents, we are responsible for safeguarding children and should not be left in a position where we do not know the facts.

"I'm really sad to say there is an attitude of keeping things under wraps in the council. I did not see any alternative to raising this in public because otherwise it would have just been covered up."

Corporate parenting is a local authority's responsibility for children in its care.

Cllr Taylor — who sent a copy of his complaint to the County Press — claimed Cllr Welsford was reckless in disclosing sensitive information to be reported in the media.

He said: "Such an action could clearly have led to the family concerned experiencing significant distress at the public disclosure of the date of their child’s death and thereby caused them unimaginable anguish at this already acutely difficult time in their lives.

"Cllr Welsford could have sought a briefing from the relevant director, rather than just deliberately blurting this sensitive detail straight out into a public forum with potentially damaging consequences.

"It cannot have been in the public interest to raise the specific circumstances of an individual child’s death during a public discussion into the Isle of Wight Council’s inadequate safeguarding arrangements.

"I believe Cllr Welsford has brought his office into disrepute by exploiting the death of a child in what can only be described as a crude and cynical media-focused stunt.

"His principal interest appears to be one of scoring a cheap political point in response to an undoubtedly well-intentioned, but unfortunate, remark made by Cllr Abraham a couple of weeks ago."

He called for Cllr Welsford's role as a 'corporate parent' to be revoked and his access to confidential and sensitive information restricted while the complaint was investigated.

Responding to further criticism from council leader Cllr David Pugh about his raising the case in public, Cllr Welsford said: "I would like to apologise for providing the scrutiny panel last week with the wrong date in relation to the child who tragically died last November."

He said was given the date in good faith and despite the error the rest of the information he referred to was correct.

He added that he had given the date in the meeting to avoid speculation about other cases.

In a statement issued yesterday (Tuesday) he said: "This not withstanding, I had very good reasons to raise this matter in the way that I did and did so in the interest of the council and the wider public interest. The reasons are as follows:

*The fact of the recent Ofsted report, which described a service in crisis.

*Apparent failings of senior management and political leadership outlined in the report.

*Concerns about weak or ineffective scrutiny and allegations of a repeated failure to respond appropriately to a referral, which may have eventually led to a child’s death.

*The fact that the apparent ignorance on the part of members about events which they have responsibility, which is incompatible with their role as corporate parents and as members of the employing authority.

*The content of my conversation with HMI (Ofsted).

*Concerns the council may have not been completely with Ofsted regarding the existence of the Serious Case Review.

"Overall these factors and the combined effect of them gave me no confidence in raising this matter in any other place, than in public at the relevant scrutiny committee meeting."

Cllr Welsford stressed his statement was not a response to Cllr Taylor’s complaint, which he would answer separately.

Reporter: emilyp@iwcpmail.co.uk

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