Baby P £600k sacking: blame Ed Balls, not Sharon Shoesmith
Shadow chancellor’s expensive mistake over removal of Haringey official raises questions of judgment
TIM LOUGHTON, the former Tory children’s minister, said this morning that a reported pay-off of £600,000-plus in compensation to Sharon Shoesmith, sacked in the wake of the Baby P scandal, “stinks”.
He told Radio 4’s Today programme that the pay-out to the former head of Haringey social services department was a “reward for failure” and would “leave a pretty bad taste in taxpayers’ mouths”.
He said Shoesmith had presided over a dysfunctional department and a 17-month old boy had died in horrific circumstances on her watch. “We are effectively rewarding failure. When you are appointed a director of children’s services… the buck has to stop somewhere and somebody has to take responsibility.”
He was particularly upset by the confidentiality clause in her settlement with Haringey which means the actual amount cannot be revealed – though Newsnight, which broke the story of the pay-off last night, has been told it was £600k-plus.
But has Loughton - and others speaking out overnight – got the wrong target? Should Shoesmith be taking the blame for the pay-out – or Ed Balls?
As Today presenter James Naughtie pointed out to Loughton, a court had ruled that her sacking was wrong.
The reason for that was that Ed Balls, who was Children’s Secretary at the time of the Baby P scandal, fired Shoesmith from her £130,000-a-year post without giving her the right of reply . She learned of her sacking – and the name of he successor – while watching the TV news.
Balls made his decision after a report by the regulator Ofsted found Haringey had failed to protect 17-month-old Peter, who died in 2007 following months of abuse.
Balls was accused at the time of leaning on Ofsted. Shoesmith’s lawyers alleged that Ofsted had “beefed up” the findings against their client. Shoesmith's lawyer James Maurici said it was "beyond dispute" that Balls "interfered" with the damning Joint Area Review report against her.
Shoesmith claimed that the actions of Balls, Ofsted and Haringey council were "unfair" and in breach of natural justice, and had left her penniless and practically unemployable. Balls denied the claims but Shoesmith won her case. As a result - as Naughtie said on air this morning - a big compensation pay-out to Shoesmith was “inevitable”.
Some of the cash for her settlement will come from central government funds, but the council will have to foot most of the bill, according to Newsnight.
But whichever kitty the money comes out of, it is the taxpayer who must meet the cost of this expensive debacle. It reinforces the view of those who believe Balls, now the Shadow Chancellor, has the judgment of a bull in a china shop and who fear for the country’s economy if Ed Miliband leaves it in Balls’s hands should Labour win the 2015 general election.
Barry Sheerman, the Labour MP and former chairman of the Commons select committee on education, which investigated the Baby P scandal, tweeted this morning: "Those of us who were close to the events surrounding the Baby Peter tragedy find the new attack on Sharon Shoesmith as unfair."
Expect more voices to remind us that this balls-up isn’t as one-sided as it looks. ·