Leading Article: N1's betrayal of the innocents

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The Independent Online
First, let's talk about the children. For several years - from the mid-Eighties until 1992 - some of those in the care of Islington social services were put at risk by people employed to care for them. Complaints against staff about abuse were not investigated properly, and when investigations did take place, appropriate action was not taken. Staff who were suspected of wrongdoing were allowed to move on to childcare jobs elsewhere without hindrance. And so some of the capital's most vulnerable children were betrayed by the system set up to protect them.

Now let's talk about the management. Many people profess to be bored by the subject of how things are managed - until they go wrong. But what the independent inquiry into Islington's care for children (chaired by Oxfordshire's director of social services, Ian White) unearthed was dreadful management; inept, cowardly, confused and self-serving.

Management, however, will not be the main target for criticism. The predictable first reaction to the White report will be a chorus of "I told you so" from those who will seize on references to the council's equal opportunities policies. The "anti-political correctness" bandwagon will once again find itself creaking under the weight of politicians and pundits. And it is easy to see why. According to White, the way equal opportunities policies were interpreted in Islington led to the employment of unvetted and incompetent people because they were either from ethnic minorities or were gay. Once in a post, such employees were not confronted or monitored by management for fear of claims of discrimination. That was the main reason why of 32 staff who were accused variously of assaults, selling drugs and supplying children for sex and sexual abuse, only four were subject to disciplinary action.

But it did not have to be like that. There are plenty of organisations in this country which have managed to recruit and promote staff from target groups without once compromising the effectiveness of their organisations. They have not appointed under-qualified people, but have simply trawled a little bit more widely for their staff. They have not made "allowances" for minorities, but have applied the same rules to all. They have not let things go to avoid trouble with the unions, but have insisted on regular appraisal and feedback. So it is not equal opportunities that is to blame for the Islington scandal, but a pathetic, guilt-ridden, easy-life interpretation of it.

The leader of Islington council when these things were happening was Margaret Hodge, now the Labour MP for Barking. When the allegations were first made in 1992, she described them as a media fiction. Now she admits to misjudgements, but argues that she was badly advised. This is not good enough. What happened in Islington was a betrayal of children, a disaster for innocent employees of the borough and a setback for true equal opportunities. Unless she is prepared to take full responsibility for what went wrong it will be impossible for Tony Blair to justify her future promotion.

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