Birmingham councillor slams director Tucker on staff absences

The man brought in to fix Birmingham Council’s troubled children’s services has been told to “stop making excuses” after blaming stress levels for high absence rates among social workers.

Absenteeism has been an ongoing issue in Birmingham social services, with staff signed off ill an average of 24.9 days a year – a significantly higher amount than the national figure.

In an article in The Guardian last week, the council’s director of children’s services Colin Tucker (pictured below) attributed this rate to the stress and pressure social workers face, particularly since the number of increased referrals after the Baby P case.

But councillor Len Clark, head of the scrutiny committee that in October deemed Birmingham’s child protection “not fit for purpose”, disagreed, saying Tucker was failing to address the issue properly.

“Despite Colin’s assertions, the scrutiny committee’s findings were to the contrary,” he said. “Absenteeism has been a persistent problem since before the increase in referrals. We didn’t employ Colin to make excuses for this problem, we hired him to fix it.”

Speaking to Community Care, Tucker defended his comments. He said a report published this week on sickness and absence within the department showed there had been a “significant decrease” in absenteeism over the last quarter. He could not give exact numbers as Community Care went to press, but said he was hopeful about the results.

“I totally accept that my role is to turn this service around,” he said. “There has been a significant decrease in days per head absence and over the next quarter we’ll be in a better position to say whether this is a sustainable trend.”

The spat comes as the council struggles to recruit the three assistant directors of children’s services it agreed to take on alongside Tucker, who became the council’s first director of children’s services in April 2009.

Clark said this was down to the calibre of candidates. “We found that the quality of the candidates that came forward for interview was not to the standard we required,” he said.

“So we have to look again at this issue and maybe change the job description to attract better candidates. I would hope by the late spring we do have those posts filled.”

Tucker said the difficulty may lie with the council’s troubled past. “Social work is difficult, especially in a local authority under notice of improvement, such as ours,” he said.

“But we’re holding our nerve and holding out for good quality assistant directors with a track record of high performance. As Birmingham’s reputation improves, we hope to attract people of that calibre.”

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