By Blair McPherson
If you have a high profile job then your decisions and performance are going to draw comment. Whether you are the England football manager, the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Chancellor of the Exchequer, criticism goes with the territory.
Politicians who claim to have all the answers might be fair game and anyone who votes themselves a massive bonus in a time of austerity, job losses and wage freezes will naturally come under fire. But there is a serious issue behind the obvious fun to be had at the expense of the pious, the greedy and the self-important.
If we blame those in charge when something doesn’t work out simply because they are in charge then we risk creating a climate where the best will simply remove themselves from the firing line. This is particularly true of the public sector where the media seem to take the view that standards of accountability should be higher and if something goes wrong then someone must be to blame.
The classic case is when a child known to social services dies due to the neglect or abuse of their parents. The tragedy is often over-simplified in an attempt to allocate blame when several agencies and a number of individuals are involved. The result is to call for the head of the director of children’s services even though they had no direct involvement and were relying on the professional competence of their managers and staff.
It is particularly obnoxious when politicians call publicly for the dismissal of a director of children’s’ services as in the case of the unfair dismissal of Sharon Shoesmith at Haringey following the death of Baby P. We have now seen it again in the case of Joyce Thacker, director of Rotherham’s children’s services, hounded out of office by politicians on the select committee playing to the 10 o’clock news.
Of course there are incompetent senior managers- those who failed to ask the right questions, who dismissed the concerns of staff or ignored the warning signs, but there are employment procedures for dealing with this that give all employees a fair hearing.
Politicians should not be allowed to scapegoat senior managers or their staff rather than address the difficult issues about how to run a safe service whilst cutting budgets; how to maintain a professional service whilst replacing qualified staff with unqualified staff and how to invest in prevention when resources are already overstretched dealing with crisis intervention.
Blair McPherson is a former director of community services and an author and commentator on the public sector www.blairmcpherson.co.uk