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Demands for children’s service boss to step down during chaotic town hall meeting

Tameside’s failing children’s services were back in the limelight with one councillor facing calls to step down during a chaotic town hall meeting.

In the first council meeting since the local elections, the appointment of the new civic mayor Coun Betty Affleck was overshadowed by criticism of children’s services. Tameside Council’s children’s services department was rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted back in February.

The watchdog identified ‘serious failures’ which left kids ‘being harmed’ – or at ‘risk of harm’.

This rating was a step backwards from their ‘requires improvement’ rating given by the education watchdog in 2019. 

Inspectors criticised a reliance on agency staff to deal with soaring demand. The quality of children’s assessments was ‘not good enough’ and sometimes failed to identify risk.

But Conservative and independent councillors present at the meeting in Dukinfield Town Hall said they were baffled as to why the improvement plan was being fronted by Coun Bill Fairfoull. Coun Dan Costello questioned why the same man who presided over the failing service is still in post. Probing further, the Ashton Hurst councillor pointed out that there have been multiple staff changes except him.

Coun Liam Billington and new independent Coun Kaleel Khan were both cut short in their speeches criticising the handling of children’s services – leading to a verbal boxing match between Coun Billington and Coun Joe Kitchen (chair of council business).

Coun Fairfoull fired back by saying all the difficult decisions were made back in August 2023 – when they started to reform the service before the Ofsted inspection was conducted. He added that “I’m really happy to be in post, it’s the hardest job in my political life”. 

Coun Ged Cooney, leader of the council, has stated on numerous occasions that they want to get back to doing the basics right – and reaffirmed his faith in Coun Fairfoull as lead member for children. Yet again Coun Cooney likened their huge spending on children’s services to spending money on a bad car – implying it costs more in the long run.

The improvement plan has been published and voted through on May 21 – it sets out four key priorities for improvement.

These include: improving quality of practice on a consistent basis; bettering views, experiences and engagement with children and young people; making sure they have the right resources in the right place to meet the needs of the children and families; and having the right management structure in place to inspire and support staff to be the best that they can be.

After the improvement plan was given the green light by the full council, it was time for Coun Affleck to take the floor as the new mayor. She will be following in her father Joe Fitzpatrick’s footsteps, who wore the mayoral chains in 1987.

The new civic mayor for the golden jubilee year of Tameside Council told members how she was delighted to have been asked to serve and represent the borough as civic mayor in its golden jubilee year. She took particular pride in following in her father Joe Fitzpatrick’s footsteps in taking up the mayoral robes and wearing the chain he wore in 1987.

Coun Affleck added: “I am proud of the honour you have bestowed onto me. I will do everything I can to represent the borough of Tameside with pride and dignity.”

The former catering manager and Hyde Godley ward member will be joined in her mayoral year by her brother Declan, who will be her consort, and Coun Shibley Alam, the new deputy mayor. 

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