Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Lines' head in the sand endangers lives

Last week, Cllr John 'Slugger' Lines was in volcanic mood, fulminating at Labour politicians and misdirecting his anger. Firstly, he was kicking off and blaming Gisela Stuart for interfering with an independent report from the Audit Commission, which looks set to reduce his housing department down to a single star and fair status - just one step above a Billy No Stars failure.

Then, he decided that the best thing to do, faced with an evident failure in his department to handle emergency housing requests for people threatened by domestic violence, was to attack Cllr Ian Ward (Lab) for politicising the issue. This even ties in with the concentration of homeless support services into just four offices across the city - Northfield, Erdington, Small Heath and Newtown - making it difficult for homeless people (who, by their nature, are least likely to have the cash necessary to trek across the city to suit the convenience of the local authority) to get the support they need. The neighbourhood office system is to be left to wither on the vine and will probably shortly be withdrawn for lack of interest - I understand that at least one office is to be reduced to offering services just three days a week. Most of them are already appointment only - leading to the sight of more than one customer standing outside the security door calling the contact centre to book into a fortunately spare appointment slot just five minutes away.

But what we have now is a genuine risk to life and limb. Sorting out a genuine case demanding urgent action as a result of domestic violence should not be a challenge to an authority like Birmingham, but I'm aware of one incident where it took a caseworker a whole day chasing round Birmingham in a vain attempt to get help, only to resort to another housing agency which was able to do the job that the city council signally failed to perform. The cases cited by Cllr Ward are not the exception. That is an appalling indictment of the state of the housing department under Councillor Lines.

Perhaps if they had not been spending up to £500 a day for six years to employ one consultant in the housing directorate, who was taking away over £118,000 a year based upon his day rate, they could deal with this rather better. I have often stated my view on consultants - they are ideal when you need to bring in people to fill a short-term skills gap, but longer term needs should be met by recruitment or upskilling. Six years for one consultant is simply unacceptably wasteful - that's someone who has become essentially an employee on a very generous salary and this happened only on John Lines' watch.

Perhaps he should spend some more time fixing the problems rather than inventing conspiracies to try to shift the blame away from his department. Perhaps he should not be calling for opposition councillors to resign for raising legitimate issues which should be concern to everyone in the City. Perhaps he should be considering his own position as leader of a department that is clearly starting to fail, after several years of improvements fuelled by generous settlements from a Labour government.

The buck stops with you, Cllr Lines.


charlie said...

Para 2, first sentence - incomplete?

PoliticalHackUK said...

Corrected - thank you. Glad somebody reads this stuff.....