Director rejects Laming suggestion that councils should lose control of children`s services

A suggestion by Lord Laming that if responsibility for
children’s services were taken away from local authorities, those
services might improve, was rejected by one of the witnesses at the
Victoria Climbie inquiry, writes Janet

Norman Tutt, director of social services at Ealing council, said
he did not believe alternative arrangements would lead to any

“Take Sure Start, Connexions and the Children’s Fund… they
just raise different problems in terms of boundary issues and
communications. I’m not sure if a regional or a national
organisation would be any more efficient,” he said.

He added that it could also create problems if housing stayed
with local councils, but children’s services were moved.

But Laming, who had noted earlier that a total of four local
authorities had dealt with Victoria yet none were able to prevent
her abuse and eventual murder, commented: “It’s a depressing
thought that whatever organisation was given authority it could not
do better than what happened in Victoria’s case.”

He asked Tutt where he felt the problem lay: “Is it that
children’s services are given low priority; is it managerial
incompetance, professional incompetance or other factors? Where
should we be looking?”

Tutt responded that one area for consideration was the
relationship between senior officers and elected members.

He added that social services may not always be given the
priority it deserved because other issues were more important
electorally. Ealing’s last corporate plan did not even mention
social services.

Norman Tutt arrived at Ealing in 1998 following the resignation
of his predecessor in the face of a damning social services
inspectorate report in 1997. The report highlighted 416 unallocated
childcare cases, 93 of which were looked after children and 94
children on the child protection register, a situation Tutt agreed
was “outrageous.”

Forty five per cent of social services staff were from agencies,
and there was a “culture of hopelessness” in the department, which
was described at the time as “the worst in England” by the health

Ealing was put on special measures in June 1998 when Tutt was
made interim director, an appointment confirmed in January 1999. He
told the inquiry he was brought in to turn things around, and he
set about the job with a “root and branch restructuring” of the

The 15 team managers were made to reapply for their jobs and
just eight were successful.

“I called the others in to say they weren’t up to the job, and I
would appreciate it if they resigned or I would take action against
them,” he said.

The process was achieved within three months, and Tutt claimed
the move raised staff morale because they were aware some people
weren’t performing.

In March 1999 a follow-up SSI report commended the authority for
the progress made.

Tutt said though he felt great strides had been made in Ealing
in a short time, the key failing by the authority when Kouao and
Victoria arrived in Ealing in April 1999 was the delay in doing an

Earlier at the hearing, Jenny Goodall, director of social
services for Brent, said even in the best run authorities there
would always be opportunities for things to go wrong.

She painted an upbeat picture of the state of services in Brent
now following an “enormous change programme” since Victoria’s

But Lord Laming commented that evidence by Brent staff suggested
that the situation in the borough was now worse than ever had made
“a great impression” on him.

He said he found it hard to reconcile the “huge disparity”
between her view and that of her staff.

Goodall said Brent was “a difficult borough”, and she did not
accept that there was a “universally black” picture from staff.

“I find it difficult to understand how they can say it’s worse,”
she said, adding “But I apologise for my over-enthusiasm if that’s
what I’m being accused of.”

She also took the opportunity to apologise to Mr and Mrs Climbie
for the fact that Brent did not seize the opportunity to help
Victoria when she was in its care.

She also said she would be making an apology to Mrs Ackers who
phoned social services to raise concerns about Victoria.

Goodall said it was only during Kouao and Manning’s trial that
she realised there had been another referral, though the authority
had trouble in tracing it.

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