Shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families Michael Gove spoke in the House of Commons yesterday, in light of the Baby P case.
Mr Gove and his Opposition colleagues are quite right to raise these concerns. It is not about pointscoring, it is their statutory and moral duty.
"Michael Gove (Surrey Heath) (Con): The Secretary of State has rightly pointed out that after the Victoria Climbié tragedy, Haringey should have been an exemplar authority for child protection. I am sure that he will agree that the Government should show exemplary energy in pursuing concerns about child protection in Haringey. Six months before baby P died, Ministers received a warning letter from a former Haringey social worker. It was passed to the Commission for Social Care Inspection, which held a meeting in which Haringey council promised speedily to improve its policies on safeguarding children. Two weeks later, responsibility for inspecting child protection passed to Ofsted. What steps did Ministers, Ofsted or anyone in the Government take to ensure that Haringey lived up to its promise to improve child protection?
Ed Balls: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support for the review into Haringey social services that I instigated last Wednesday, and for giving me notice that he would raise the issue today. I sent him and other Opposition spokespeople a copy of my letter to Lord Laming.
A letter came from a lawyer for a former employee of Haringey, which went to the Department of Health. It was passed to the former Department for Education and Skills. It was not seen by Ministers. It was handled in the normal way through official channels. At that time, a reply was written to the lawyer to say that Ministers could not be involved in a particular employment case and that the right way to take the matter forward was through the social care inspectorate. That was done by the lawyer, and that process was followed up by a meeting in which the inspectorate confirmed that it was content that things had been done properly by Haringey in that case.
On the wider issue of Haringey social services, there was a review in 2006, and a further review by Ofsted in 2007, which gave a good report. It did not look at the particulars of the legal case; it looked at matters more widely. An investigation is now going on because I have sent the inspectors in. They will report to me in two weeks’ time, and I will take whatever action is needed to ensure that children in Haringey are safe.
Michael Gove: I am sure that the Secretary of State appreciates that this is a question about the inspection regime. We know that in March the inspectors said that Haringey had to improve, and that in October Ofsted said that Haringey—and this was just after baby P had died—provides a good service for children. That report was based mainly on paperwork and desk research, and the author of that report was a former employee and colleague of the director of children’s services in Haringey. Is the Secretary of State satisfied that the systems for inspecting child protection are sufficiently robust when that can happen?
Ed Balls: I very much welcome the opportunity to discuss these matters in more detail, as the House allows. The report in question was not authored by any colleague of the director of children’s services in Haringey at all. She was not the author of that investigation. There was an investigation by CSCI into particular allegations; it was content that they had been dealt with properly and closed the case.
Separately from that case, following the 2006 inquiry into safeguarding in Haringey, there was a further, routine investigation in the autumn of 2007, which, as the hon. Gentleman said, gave a good report. It did not involve inspectors’ reports and visits to Haringey—that was not the nature of the investigation. I have now called the inspectors into Haringey to see what needs to be done, and to see whether the issues that emerged from the serious case review are being properly implemented. I want to ensure that there is proper accountability and that we are doing whatever it takes to make sure that children in Haringey are safe. That is the right way to proceed. I will proceed in the right way, and we will ensure that everything is done to make sure that children in all parts of the country are being properly protected."