Wednesday 8 February 2012

February Council Meeting - Part 3: Triangulation and triage

No sooner had the auditors beaten a hasty retreat than another quango team slipped into place. This was the zippily named CSSIW, or Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales.

A team of three people went up to the podium, led by another well-dressed young woman who clearly had some sort of degree in Quangology. They were here to present a report produced back in October 2011 on the county's children's services and social care. You can read more about them in the latest issue of Private Eye. See Caebrwyn for more on this.

Members had been able to read the report for themselves, she began, so she would not go into detail, but she had been asked (by whom?) to explain the process.

Eyes glazed over throughout the chamber. There followed about 10 minutes of gibberish and jargon with lots of vaguely mathematical words. The process was cyclical, and it sought to triangulate evidence and triage the risks. Yes, really.

Then we came to the key points of the report....improvement, strong leadership, well placed to meet growing demand....Anyone who had nodded off in the auditor's spiel would not have noticed the difference, except this one wore glasses and liked the word triangulation.

Cllr John Edwards (Plaid) had been reading. There had been an explosive increase in legal costs associated with child protection cases, he noted, and yet only a modest increase in the number of cases. Why was this?

The woman in glasses deftly handed the baton to a colleague, who actually gave a very good and clear answer, which was that government had sought to reduce the amount of time children were kept in care while these cases were being dealt with in the courts, and thereby to reduce the cost of such cases. Guess what? Precisely the opposite has happened.

Cllr Mari Lyn Davies (Plaid) is remarkable on a number of counts. First, she asks intelligent and well thought out questions, and second she has learned Welsh as an adult and always uses the language, putting many of the other councillors to shame.

Both the council and CSSIW are keen to encourage and make it possible for older people to stay in their homes as long as possible, rather than go into care homes. Great, but as Cllr Davies pointed out, for many elderly people this means effectively being locked up for many hours on end, rarely getting out and rarely having any human contact.

It was a good point, but Ms Triage Triangulation was having none of it. We have no evidence that people are being left uncared for, she said.

Cllr Lemon was in rottweiler mood again. The report suggested that there were leaders who were not strong enough. Who were they?  And why did there seem to be a bottomless pit of money for substance abusers and not for older people.

Ms TT said the comment about weak leadership referred to social services, not the council. She skipped the second question.

Present, and silent, through all this were Kevin Madge, "Older People's Champion", and Robert Sully, Director of Education and Children's Services.

The debate was also notable for embarrassing breakdowns in the Welsh translation service, which was presumably overheating as it struggled to deal with "triage of risks" and "triangulation of evidence". At any rate, Ms TT was left doing impressions of a goldfish as she turned to answer questions posed in Welsh. Perhaps she should forget triangulation, follow the example of Cllr Davies and go to a Welsh for Adults class, if the county council hasn't cut them all.

The question of substance abuse and drug addiction came up later in the debate on the no confidence motion, and this is undoubtedly a difficult area. To their credit, one councillor did point out that drug addiction often had a devastating effect on families, so that there was a wider impact on social care and children's services.

Cllr Emlyn Dole (Plaid) expressed concerns about delays in assessing learning disabilities, and another councillor said the same was true for elderly people.

The Director, Mr McLernon, said something about aiming to have a system in place, and Ms TT was asked by Cllr Edwards (Plaid) why the report had stated that the council had not provided figures for the number of people awaiting assessment.

Ms TT and the Director of Social Care both waffled in reply. Ms TT had, it seems, asked for the figures, but had not chased the matter up when the council either refused or was unable to comply with the request. The Inspectorate, toothless or unwilling to make a fuss, simply let the matter go with a comment.

We were left with a picture of elderly people living alone, unloved and uncared for; lawyers coining it as children languish in care; long delays in getting assessments for the elderly and vulnerable; and care homes and respite care under threat as cuts begin to bite.

Somehow, it was hard to reconcile this with Ms TT's glowing report, with all its improvements and strong leadership. Sadly, she will go far.

While all this was going on, strange and remarkable things began to take place. The chief executive had a long, whispered conversation with the chair. Shortly afterwards, while Ms TT was triangulating, he left through one of the two doors behind the podium.

Seconds later, Meryl Gravell decided to stretch her legs and left through the other door. Mysteriously, both reappeared at almost the same time.

Something was up, and I don't think it was extra-marital.

At about the same time, Cllr Caiach had crossed the floor of the chamber to speak to someone. The chair suddenly snapped. "Go back to your seat, Cllr Caiach!"

Cllr Caiach asked if she was obliged to sit where the chair told her to sit.

"No," came the reply, "but don't interfere with other members". Tittering from the public gallery.

Shortly after this bizarre episode, and a brief discussion about the location of polling stations, we were finally on to the motion of no confidence.

Part 4 to follow.

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