Medway Labour and Co-operative Group today raised concerns about the standard of council scrutiny of Children’s Services allowed by the ruling Conservative administration. Medway Council’s Children’s Services were put into the ‘Inadequate’ category following a damning Ofsted report last summer.
The highlight reported a range of shortcomings, including the need to strengthen councillors’ oversight. The issue was raised by Medway Labour and Co-operative Councillor Pat Cooper. Responding to Cllr Cooper’s question, Conservative Council Leader Alan Jarrett implied that effective scrutiny was politicised by the Labour Group and that his own councillors could have individual conversations with political leaders.
Responding to Cllr Jarrett, Cllr Cooper said:
‘It is shocking that Medway’s Tory administration have allowed services for our most vulnerable children to deteriorate so badly. We support the hard work of Medway’s staff to improve the services the authority provides, but that support includes rigorous analysis and effective scrutiny. As a Labour and Cooperative Group, we will continue our hard work holding this failing administration to account. We will not be deterred from this vital task by Cllr Jarrett’s dismissive attitude.’
Medway Labour and Co-operative Shadow Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, Cllr Clive Johnson, said:
‘I am really concerned by Cllr Jarrett’s anti-democratic stance on this issue which is so vital for the future of Medway’s young people. We have a really important role in examining the Medway’s administration in this area and across its work. This is one of our key constitutional functions and we will not be deterred from fulfilling it. I am so concerned about Cllr Jarrett’s response to Cllr Cooper that I have written to Medway’s Children’s Commissioner, Eleanor Brazil, to raise the issue with her.’
At Full Council on 23rd January 2020 Cllr Pat Cooper asked the Leader of the Council Cllr Alan Jarrett the following:
Given the vital importance of robust challenge and scrutiny to the rapid and sustainable improvement of Medway’s Children’s Services, as emphasised by the Commissioner, what assurances can he provide to backbench members of his own group that they will be encouraged to be robust in Overview and Scrutiny Committee meetings and that they will not face disciplinary or other action for challenges to the administration?
Cllr Jarrett’s response:
Thank you for your question Councillor Cooper. Members of the Conservative Group are encouraged to fully engage in the process of Overview & Scrutiny, and are assisted in that by being part of the ruling Conservative group and therefore have ready access to Cabinet members with whom they can discuss policy, performance and other matters.
Unlike members of the Labour Group, who seek to politicise Overview & Scrutiny debate at every opportunity, members of the Conservative Group carry out their role in a measured and responsible manner, seeking to take Medway forward and not back.