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.