It is a rare occasion when this humble blog agrees with anything that the Leader of Walsall Council says. However, exceptions make rules and, for once, Mike Bird had uttered something that is correct.
Commenting on the appointment of a new Executive Director for Children`s Services, he said:
“One of the most difficult, onerous and specialist roles at any council is the head of children`s services.”
Spot on there, Mike. Not a lot gets past councillor Bird. Sadly, the member for Pheasey Park Farm soon reverted to the default position of talking nonsense. In another exception that proves the rule, the woeful Express and Star seems to have done some actual investigative journalism and turned up the remuneration package for the incoming head honcho. The E&S however, seem to have lifted a ghastly and rather frightening photograph from a Kent news website. “Council boss costing £1000 a day” screamed the lurid front page headline. When asked to justify this expense, the mathematically challenged councillor Bird said:
“Very few people have the highly-demanding skills needed for the post which in Walsall sees a responsibility for 250 who have child protection plans and 520 children in care and as a result payments of £1,200 a day are common.”
“We have negotiated a daily charge of £974 of which £224 is paid to the agency who provided the successful candidate. We realise all very well these are big sums to the person in the street but we must point to the risks if things go wrong.”
If it were not for the fact that the lives and futures of vulnerable children were at stake, this utter drivel would be hilarious. It is difficult to know where to start with this total buffoon. Perhaps the leader of the council, a man who twice attempted to increase his own council allowance by claiming that he worked 365 24/7, is suggesting the new Executive Director will take direct control of the 770 cases he has mentioned. At less than two pounds, per day, per child, this seems excellent value for money even before we consider the responsibility for schools, adoption, fostering, youth provision, physical and learning disabilities and, say it softly, safeguarding. Okay, forget about responsibility for schools. As Academy status is forced upon schools and therefore no longer under the control of the local authority, the considerable work load is significantly reduced.
Our glorious leader seems rather triumphant at negotiating such a reasonably daily rate but this suggests a contract similar to a supply teacher brought in to cover illness. Has such an important post been contracted on a daily basis and does paying £224 every day to an agency represent value for money? It is very kind of Walsall`s answer to Carol Vorderman to inform the person in the street of the nature of big sums but most of us are aware of the highest council tax bills in the region, the missing receipts that cost us millions and the very big sums in out of court settlements for wrongful dismissal of council staff. For 1,200 quid a day you could hire Kate Middleton to turn on the Christmas lights or persuade ABBA to reform and do a gig on the Arboretum band stand. In terms of the risks if things go wrong; hey Mike, things have gone wrong, very, very wrong.
Outgoing Executive Director Pauline Pilkington was awarded an MBE in the 2010 New Year’s honours list but a visit by Ofsted led to her resignation in late July because safeguarding in Walsall was judged to be inadequate. There was much wailing of Ofsted being unfair coming from the idiots around the Walsall cabinet table which seems just a little ironic when these same incompetents pounced on schools that Ofsted had unfairly judged to be failing. Schools became Academies without adequate consultation or, in some cases, the support or agreement of parents, pupils or staff. Those that live by the sword usually die by the sword but in Walsall, the cabinet member with responsibility for children and young people remains in place and continues to receive her cabinet allowance.
And so we welcome to the politically toxic Borough of Walsall a Ms Rose Collinson as new Executive Director and, hopefully, the saviour of our children. Having been again out foxed by the dreadful E&S, the council rushed out a rather bizarre press release to announce the appointment. The PR informs us that the former Director of Children`s and Adults Services at Medway Council has “an impressive track record of achievement” and went on to report that she “has built a reputation for transforming poorly performing children and adult services into units which deliver and sustain significant efficiencies”. The words “significant efficiencies” will strike terror in the hearts of parents, teachers and social workers and the lady herself is quoted as saying: “My focus is to ensure that staff, partners and stakeholders achieve the very best for our children, families and adults while progressing service value.” It seems that “progressing service value” is as much a priority as vulnerable children. Splendid, what could possibly go wrong? It might be worth taking a look at the impressive track record of Ms Collinson.
It appears that she joined Medway Council when it was formed in 1998 and became director in 2006. She resigned from her post in March of this year. No reason was given but during her employment there, she faced some challenging issues, not least a complete shambles over selection examinations known as the Medway Test, an increase in the number of Medway Primary Schools being judged as inadequate, controversial Academy conversions and the resignations of Head Teachers and other senior staff. In September 2009 she incurred the wrath of local Conservative MP Mark Reckless (oh if only his first name was Eric) who suggested that she misled the Conservative cabinet of Medway Council regarding the closure of two primary schools. Prior to her departure earlier this year, a petition calling for her resignation and that of the cabinet portfolio holder due to incompetence, school closures and failings at a number of primary schools was offered to the local Ombudsman. Due to an increase in the number of primary aged children, Medway Council has had to commission the building of a new primary school. Here in Walsall, councillor Bird has stated that “her track record is impeccable”.
Interestingly, Medway Council is also welcoming a new director this September. She is a Ms Barbara Peacock, formerly of Sandwell Council and has also been described as having “an impeccable pedigree”. Perhaps Ms Pilkington MBE should apply for the vacant post in Sandwell by highlighting her impeccable record in Walsall. At this point, perhaps we should pause for a lesson in English. For the benefit of councillor Bird and the chief executive at Medway, “impeccable” means without flaws or error; perfect, faultless and incapable of sin or wrongdoing.
Perhaps we should end with a lesson in mathematics in the hope that councillor Bird has the ability to understand big sums. Last year, outgoing Pauline Pilkington received an annual salary of £114,328. During her time in Medway, Rose Collinson was paid £121,000 every year but now she will receive about £170,000 of Walsall tax payer money every 12 months. Are you keeping up, Mike? Add to this another £50,000 paid to the mysterious agency that found this angel of mercy and you are looking at about seven fully qualified, experienced social workers who do not have “significant efficiencies” or “service value” as part of their job description but would rather concentrate on the safeguarding and protection of children.
As a reward for failure, Ms Pilkington received a performance related bonus of £5,739, expenses amounting to £2,670 and a further contribution of £14,360 from the people of Walsall to her pension pot.
Goodbye Pauline, hello Rose; you will find the axe under your desk. It must be a great feeling being impeccable.