This is the much-maligned department that has recently managed to scrape together the wherewithal to achieve one star status, after years of problems and no stars at all. It is also rather strapped for cash - although it has received additional funding as noted by the Commission for Social Care Inspection during their visit this year. While we can thank the current council for the extra funding - not least because the government provided additional support - improvements were recorded in the inspection in summer 2004 as a result of the recovery plan from the last administration, which provided a solid foundation for the new mob to actually do some good work.
However, the service is hardly swimming with cash or enjoying high morale - something that John and Emily should both know - he as a former Deputy Leader of the Council and she as a member of the Social Care Overview & Scrutiny Committee. So, this service now has to defend a claim for £300,000 in damages from multi-millionaire Hemming and his PA and partner. If they lose, us council taxpayers get to pay for it - although he also wants the social workers themselves to cough up as well. We'll certainly end up paying for the time the team spend preparing their defence to the claim.
John claims that they were 'defamed, tortured and assaulted' and had spent time 'which could have been spent earning' dealing with the issues raised. This last point is important, as that forms the basis of the claim for damages for lost earnings - although quite how much a PA on maternity leave and an MP actually lost is highly questionable. I'm not aware of anyone complaining that John was too busy on other issues to deal with constituency matters and the parliamentary questions certainly have kept flowing.
Now, this is a fairly one-sided media scuffle, as Social Services can't really discuss the issues behind the action that they took and nor would I want them to. All they can say is
'The local authority took careful and considered actions as required by the law to investigate concerns about the welfare of a child. Birmingham City Council is confident of all the actions taken alongside police and health colleagues and will be vigorously defending the matter and its staff who at all times acted within the area child protection committee procedures and the law.'What seems apparent is that, while pregnant, Ms Cox had a chat with her GP and he was sufficiently concerned by something she said to contact Social Services - something he is legally bound to do in the interests of the infant (who is also regarded as a separate patient). This triggered the controversial investigation by 'the Gestapo' (Godwin's law strikes again and John loses the argument for a fairly crass comparison).
Now, I have no special insight into this particular case and I don't seek it, but the following seems evident to me. If you are a social worker and a GP passes information to you involving an MP and senior councillor on the ruling group and his mistress, who is also a councillor and on the committee that monitors your department's performance, I rather suspect that you might give thought to your likely approach to entering this political minefield. On the other hand, this might be a reprehensible political attack on John and Emily or just a case of insensitivity and incompetence - these are both entirely possible outcomes.
I'm not making a blind defence of social services, as they have made mistakes, but resorting to legal action so soon after the incident could send out the wrong message and, whatever the rights and wrongs of this particular case, might lead to social workers avoiding the 'difficult' cases involving the rich and powerful for fear of legal action. I would have hoped that both of them could have found a better way of resolving the problems without wheeling out the big guns.
This should have remained a private and confidential matter, rather than being dragged into court where yet more dirty laundry may be aired, still less splashed across the pages of the local press.