Social Services & Martin Morton

It’s good to see some local press coverage in the Wirral Globe (with 37 comments) and other local papers about this issue, which I wrote about on the 19th in relation to the Cabinet meeting of the 14th.

Changing an entire culture of an organisation and how councillors do scrutiny in the future is always difficult. Wirral Council will need to bring people like Mr. Morton on board if things are to change. The public call for people who didn’t do their job to be fired and the finger of blame pointed at certain named councillors of various political parties as well as the full story as to what happened and why and will be clearer once the report is published. However Wirral Council needs to move on from the past and embrace change.

As pointed out in previous reports, it was not just the Cabinet Member’s responsibility but at the time of the special charging policy there was a separate Social Services committee with a Chair and party spokespersons whose role was scrutiny of Social Services. People involved in political parties at the time of the special charging policy do know who was involved in these at the time, but (perhaps as many are still serving councillors) these names haven’t been released to the general public.

Although weaknesses were exposed at the political/councillor level there were also massive failings within Social Services management and internal confusion regarding its policies and procedures.

In politics, only certain things are taken up and campaigned on (and this partly depends on the numbers that want something). The rest, councillors, MPs etc and others in political parties do their best about. Mr. Morton was standing up for disabled adults (many of which sadly at times encounter prejudice or in some cases due to their disability have difficulties in communicating). Many councillors have a very good understanding of physical disability (eg glasses, walking sticks, wheelchair users etc) but don’t fully understand the nuances (and differing severities) of adults with learning difficulties or learning disabilities.

Yet what is the employee body of Wirral Council as a whole like? Wirral Council itself was named joint “Scrooge Employer of the Year” for 2008 for poor staff morale and where staff felt their efforts went unappreciated. If you read the Council’s Workforce monitoring report for 2009/2010, that you were more likely to get a job if you were female or disabled. Yet if you were from a non-white ethnic background or male you were less likely to get from shortlisting to the job.

As the report points out “The success rate of disabled applicants is marginally above the norm. The high percentage of shortlisted disabled applicants is due in the main to the Council’s guaranteed interview policy. This policy guarantees that a disabled applicant who meets the essential criteria is shortlisted and is interviewed. The most significant trend is that whilst non-white ethnic background applicants have a greater chance of being short listed they appear to be less successful at interview stage.”

A quarter of its employees choose not to answer the question on disability. I hope Wirral Council working in the future with organisations such as Operation Black Vote will move things forward on race and by working through the issues flagged up by Mr. Morton Wirral Council will start getting things right for disabled people, rather than being branded the worst Social Services department in the country.

The author is a former student representative on the Disability SubGroup of University of Liverpool.

Local events of interest over the holidays – Free swimming for children at leisure centres, Birkenhead Park tennis, Tam O’Shanter

Over at the Wirral Tennis & Sports Centre there is currently the 11th Annual Easter Weekend Aikido festival.

Birkenhead Park visitor centre is currently showing (until the 29th April) a free photographic exhibition about Wirral’s industrial heritage (provided by the Friends of Birkenhead Park).

Free swimming for children over the holidays will be provided at the leisure centres. This is thanks to a decision by Tory and Lib Dem councillors last year to continue funding free swimming.

Labour in Liverpool scrapped the free swimming (brought in by Liberal Democrats), choosing to spend the money on a pay increase for its leader and £380,000 on a one day event in Shanghai.

The free swimming runs until the 1st May, at leisure centres such as nearby Europa Pools and Woodchurch Leisure Centre. A timetable can be downloaded from Wirral Council’s website of the opening times.

Birkenhead Park will also be offering free tennis coaching for under 8s, 9-15s and adults tomorrow (10am to 11am for under 8s and 11am to 12 noon for older kids and adults). Further information on activities in Birkenhead Park can be found here.

Popular Tam O’Shanter Farm in Boundary Road will also be open over the holidays for children and adults.

Cabinet 14th April 2011 – Department of Adult Social Services – Report of the Independent Investigator

Although the covering report about the independent investigator’s report into Social Services (despite multiple requests by myself) was not circulated to those present at the meeting, it has since been published on on Wirral Council’s website.

It makes interesting reading. A few quotes about how Wirral Council treated its former employee Martin Morton:-

“Mr Smith concludes that there were three examples of personal behaviour which he believed were inappropriate and which resulted in Martin Morton being bullied.”

“Mr Smith concludes that there were seven examples of collective behaviour which he believes were inappropriate; and which resulted in Martin Morton receiving detrimental treatment.”

“Mr Smith concludes that there were three examples of what he believes to be inappropriate behaviour/abuse of power at the departmental level in DASS; and which resulted in a denial of due process by the Council as an organisation.”

“Lastly, Mr Smith finds that there were three examples of inappropriate behaviour/abuse of power at corporate level, which he believes resulted in a denial of due process by the Council, as an organisation, in its consideration of
Martin Morton’s grievance claims.”

By my count that’s 16 examples of where things went wrong. There are many recommendations including:-

“Mr Smith’s final recommendation, Recommendation 6, is that, in the light of the investigation findings, the Council should consider its obligations to Martin Morton; and determine whether it should consider an appropriate remedy for the manner in which the Council has treated him.”

Basically things need to change at Wirral Council and although what’s in the 270 page report of Mr. Smith can be guessed at and will be made public there are various questions this raises:-

a) What role did individual councillors have in this? Are there lessons to be learnt on a political level (for all political parties)?
b) What role did individual officers have in this? Are the failings within Social Services part of what led to it being scored by the Care Quality Commission as one of the worst Social Services department in the country?
c) Although Wirral Council have apologised, what is an “appropriate remedy” for Martin Morton?

The whole thing comes across as confirming some things in political parties that people knew already about:-

problems in councillor/employee relations (or Member/Officer relations as its usually referred to)
management failings within Social Services
confusion by its employees over internal policies
prejudice towards the client group (vulnerable adults with a disability)
workplace issues
what role council employees play in the political process

I could write a very, very long list and await the publication of the report with interest! I admire Martin Morton for the principled stand he took (and was ultimately victimised and hounded out of a job for doing the right thing).

Some of those involved have left DASS, but some are still working there.

Councillors Allowances – Details published by Wirral Council

The amounts paid to councillors by Wirral Council and separately for the Mayor of Wirral has (finally) been published.

Unfortunately the amounts for outside bodies (eg Merseytravel, Merseyside Police Authority, Merseyside Waste Disposal Authority, Merseyside Fire & Rescue Authority) have yet to be received by Wirral Council (but should be published sometime by the relevant authorities).

However I can now write that Labour’s candidate Cllr. Harry Smith has received this year from Wirral Council, £13,316.24 (£256/week) in 2010/2011 and £14,269.66 in 2009/2010 for being a Bidston & St. James ward councillor.

During the election period (29th March to 5th May) he will receive approximately £1500 ([edit 22/4 – from approx £1400]) for being a local councillor from the taxpayer.

It remains to be seen where the source of funds are for his reelection campaign, but last year the local Labour Party branch of Bidston & St. James donated hundreds of pounds to get their candidate reelected as well as some expenditure that helped all Labour candidates by the Labour Group of councillors. Per each Labour voter in Bidston & St. James that voted for him last time over the 4 years (minus one week suspension) since he’s been elected Harry Smith received about £38.31 from Wirral Council.

If you don’t feel he is value for money, on May 5th (or earlier if you receive your postal ballot) vote Liberal Democrat. We’re the only ones who can beat Labour here, with the Conservatives coming 3rd last time (10.8%) and UKIP 5th (3.31%).

Our first past the post voting system means if you vote Conservative or UKIP this time you are just helping Labour to win here.

HMCS Athabaskan

Following on writing about HMS Campbeltown, my wife and I went on a look around the Canadian Navy flagship HMCS Athabaskan. Unfortunately I forgot to put the memory card in my camera and the batteries ran out by the time I got back which meant the photos were lost.

Differences between HMCS Athabaskan and HMS Campbeltown

If I remember correctly with the Royal Navy frigate people could just walk straight on and there was one route you followed around the ship coming off off a gangplank at the other end. Also the Royal Navy was using it as a recruitment exercise/good PR (although the ship was on its way to the scrapyard). Most Royal Navy events I’ve been too have been run well.

With the HMCS Athabaskan (perhaps as it was better publicised) people were asked to queue on the dock and shown on about a dozen at a time. It had two flags (in addition to others), a Canadian flag at one end and a flag at the other with a Canadian flag in the corner and the emblems of the First Nation people in the other three quarters. The badge or emblem of this ship was a First Nation brave on a pony with a bow and arrow. The motto was “We fight as one”.

It was a much older ship than the Campbeltown. Unlike the Campbeltown it could carry two helicopters at a time (the Campbeltown can but only in wartime). Unlike the Campbeltown which was built locally in Birkenhead, this ship was built in Quebec. The crew were friendly and welcoming and my wife (being from Canada) was interested.