Parties show their true colours in debate about service for vulnerable children

Posted On 24 Jun 2020 at 7:12 pm

Chaotic changes to home to school transport – and the unnecessary harms inflicted on some of our most vulnerable children – have exposed worrying shortcomings in the council under Labour.

Conservatives spoke out before the catastrophe. We spoke up as it unfolded. And we have spent a huge amount of time trying to fix the mess, identify the causes and prevent a repeat.

Many of the lessons apply not only to home to school transport but also to the wider ways in which the council and the Labour leadership operate.

Unsurprisingly, my Conservative colleagues and I have criticised the Labour administration but the criticisms that we have offered have at all times been constructive.

The Spearhead

This is important because so many parents, carers and children – mostly children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) – rely on a well-run service.

Labour has for some months been working on plans to try to rescue itself from horrendous problems largely of its own making.

Despite our warnings, Labour insisted on pushing through flawed, rushed and ill-thought-out changes and then tried to blame those who have proved vital in sorting out the mess.

Labour also promised full transparency in respect to investigating the issues and how the council landed itself in such a mess.

Earlier this year the Local Government Association completed a damning report criticising the council for a raft of bad practices, for not putting children first and for failing to recognise the risks.

In parallel, forced through by Conservative members, a councillor-led panel has been investigating failing after failing after failing.

Yet, last week, when the council’s Children, Young People and Skills Committee held its first meeting in more than three months, Labour argued fiercely that the panel should be shut down.

It lost the argument and it lost the vote. So Labour then refused to support its own report, containing the measures proposed to fix the very problems that Labour caused in the first place.

Anyone listening to the webcast of the online meeting would have got the true measure of Labour on this issue. The party has paid lip service to transparency and this was fully and shockingly exposed.

To argue actively against the councillor-led scrutiny was disgraceful and only goes to show to me that Labour doesn’t want the truth to be found or heard.

Perhaps the scrutiny panel – or, as the council insists on calling it, the policy panel – is getting too close to the uncomfortable truths.

We have had to ask some questions several times because answers have been withheld – and I suspect that Labour either doesn’t want to share the answers or fears what will be found.

My colleague Councillor Mary Mears said: “It was nothing less than petulance for Labour to vote against their own report because they lost the argument in trying to stop the scrutiny panel.

“It must have been a devastating blow for those officers who have worked hard on trying fix the problems not to receive the support of the administration.

“We see the true colours of Labour in these situations. When they don’t get their way, they are prepared to undermine important work and services such as providing a statutory service that safely gets children with special education needs and disabilities to school.”

Another of my colleagues, the Conservative leader Councillor Steve Bell, added: “Labour have said that key to getting this right is winning back the trust and confidence of our vulnerable children and their families.

“They won’t do that in a million years if they refuse to support proper scrutiny and won’t even support their own rescue plan.”

It is too soon to stop work on finding out what went wrong and – when those vulnerable children return to school in September – we want to see that the lessons really have been learnt.

Councillor Lee Wares is the deputy leader of the Conservatives on Brighton and Hove City Council.

  1. Rob Arbery Reply

    All thanks to Lee and Mary for keeping this a live issue and representing a small but important minority in our city. Cllr Allcock was the first to offer apologies but that seems about all. He is a disgrace as Chair and he and the other Labour colleagues on CYP should hang their ineffective and disorderly heads in shame.

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