Question raised over appropriateness of former Children’s Services Lead councillor being on group looking at improvements to service
The first Scrutiny Committee since lockdown opened with an abrasive comment last week, with one group colleague referring to another as ‘this individual’ while appearing to distance themselves from them.
The Safeguarding, Communities and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee, which was the first to take place in months due to the pandemic, saw an opening item look at the revised scrutiny work programme, including the setting up of a Children’s Social Care Improvement Task & Finish Group. (More here from yesterday: Care Inspectorate Wales say “concerns have escalated from serious to significant” over Council’s children’s services)
The Group has an important function, as it will “enable regular monitoring of performance and quality” in the service, to “enable any areas of concern tobe highlighted at an early stage”.
Membership of the Group is made up of some of the Committee, and “was agreed by the Committee” via email prior to the meeting, however privately raised issues of the membership were aired in public.
The comments were made at the start of a Safeguarding, Communities and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee meeting which saw former Lead Member for Children’s Services Cllr Bill Baldwin appear on the committee.
In October Cllr Baldwin resigned the Lead Member position “pending the result of an investigation” after he accused of sharing racist material on social media. There has been no outcome of that investigation as of yet.
Cllr Baldwin is part of Cllr David A Bithell’s Wrexham Independent Group, along with Cllr Joan Lowe who took on his portfolio on an interim basis after his resignation. Cllr Lowe was attending the meeting as Lead Member for People – Health and Adult Social Care.
Cllr Gwenfair Jones said: “I’ve got real concerns here at that Councillor Bill Baldwin is on this Task and Finish Group. Derek (Chairman) I have mentioned this to you before. He was lead member when Children’s Services was not a very good place.
“I think by having him on the Task and Finished Group, it’s going to undermine what we’re doing. I just wanted to make it on record that I have concerns please.”
Cllr Derek Wright, Chairman of the Committee, replied pointing out the membership of the committee and therefore participant in sub groups or the like was not within his or the committee’s gift, “As I stated previously, it is up to Bill’s political group to nominate him as a member of this committee.
“He got put forward by that group as a member of the committee, and as a member of the task and finish group. I don’t see anything wrong with the previous record that Bill had in any position in the Council which prevents him from being a member of the task and finish group.”
Cllr Joan Lowe interjected, referring to group colleague Cllr Baldwin as ‘this individual’, stating: “You said Bill’s group put him forward. Erm, this individual put himself forward. He wasn’t put forward from the group. Just to clarify.”
Cllr Wright offered clarification as well, “I meant join as a member of our committee. He did put himself forward, as we all did, for task and finish members.
Cllr Lowe replied: “I felt as you said it, it was as if we as The Wrexham Independent Group had put him forward. No. He put himself forward.”
Cllr Wright wrapped up the issue: “I am of the opinion as chair of this committee that, as I previously said, that there is nothing stopping Bill because he was a Lead Member from being a member of the Task and Finish Group.
“I think actually he could add some value to it with the information he could bring on that from what happened in children’s services during this time as Lead Member.”
Wrexham.com could not locate any similar clarifications or distancing of the Wrexham Independent Group from Cllr Baldwin’s social media posts that are under investigation that has entered its eleventh month.
Back in June 2019 (amid odd scenes) the Council agreed to “give effect to the wishes of the Political Groups to which seats are allocated and considers which seats are to be made available to the non-aligned Members” on Scrutiny Committees, with Groups aware that their nominees will then end up on committees and then any sub groups thereof.
Cllr Baldwin did not speak during the meeting.
(More here from yesterday on the wider meeting: Care Inspectorate Wales say “concerns have escalated from serious to significant” over Council’s children’s services)
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