A Very Troubled Council



Cllr Tony ‘Trouble’  Smith

We understand that at last night’s Extraordinary Meeting of Wirral Council that there were several calls for various heads to roll in the aftermath of the Ofsted Inspection Report. Prominent among them being Cllr Tony Smith the Labour Cabinet lead for Children’s Services.

It didn’t happen of course due to both a lack of  opposition votes and also seemingly a lack of shame.  

It seems that much of the criticism levelled at Cllr Tony Smith is that with his soothing,lilting,lovely Irish brogue he has reassured councillors that everything  was fine ,to be sure , so it is, when talking about how well the council was doing when it came to safeguarding vulnerable children. 

But it clearly wasn’t doing well at all, at all – and he and others knew it!.

And so this now turns out to be a  further manifestation of what Ofsted politely call  “a culture of over-optimism” and what we identified almost exactly 3 years ago as ‘The Pollyanna Principle’ with its prime proponent being Council leader Phil ‘Power Boy Pip’ Davies :


How timely then that it has been brought to our attention that  Cllr Tony Smith has a history of making statements that are not merely “over -optimistic”  but considering his position – misleading,manipulative and irresponsible.

Our regular learned contributor ‘The Professor’ informs us that an official (leaked) report has concluded that the Troubled Family Programme delivered zero improvements in families nationally and reminds us :

Last year I reported on the false claims by the Council of a ‘huge success’ in ‘turning around’ local families from hell in the Troubled Families Programme. It turned out those claims were false. Now we learn that a leaked, independent government sponsored report by Ecorys confirms and extends these conclusions nationally. But let’s remind ourselves of the Wirral Council claims first. Cllr. Tony Smith declared in March 2015 at the TFP celebrations, that

                            ‘we have seen a hugely successful outcome…’

 What actually happened? Well initially 74% of our families had workless adults. At project end just 2.6% had gained an adult with a job, or 24 in total.  The local project processed 910 families compared with 118,000 nationally. The national cost of the TFP phase 1 was ~£615 million so average cost per family was £5.2K. Our cost share would be £4.72 million. We can see that each job gained cost us ~£197,000. Is that good value? However in addition it was claimed that 77% of the Wirral troubled families had met the ‘crime / ASB / education’ target. Surely a big reduction in crime or antisocial behaviour is worth something? Except that 93.5% of adults and 89.6% of children had not been involved in ASB at project entry!  84 % of minors had not been involved in offences! Only 1.2% of the children had an ASBO or ABC!. It turns out that the 77% number is phoney and, to the extent it measures anything, that is a modest reduction in school absences, not criminality.

The Professor’s full report to the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee : Troubled Families Inquiry 2016 can be read here : https://drive.google.com/open?id=0BxrkIjRDgrB-ODJLNjYyY2trNVQwZThoMkxXVm1GNW5pVjBJ

Not only are we troubled that last year this was presented as a good news story ‘The Professor’ also suggests our local cost share of TFP phase 2 could be ~£7 million with NO  prospect of any benefits delivery at all except more populist political hate spin on the poorest (mainly ill) ‘families from hell’.
But of course you won’t be reading about any of this in Wirral Council’s forthcoming publication Wirral Today nor sadly it would seem about the resignation of Cllr Tony Smith……..  



2 thoughts on “A Very Troubled Council

  1. The Pollyanna Principle is a very interesting concept; and it is very contagious.

    This is reflected admirably by your post entitled ‘The Man in the Mirror’

    It is evident that Wirral Council is riddled with serious scrutiny, management, and administrative malfunctions. If it was not all-consuming, and so appallingly serious, it might be taken as a ‘Comedy of Errors’ in the extreme.

    If the difficulties facing Wirral Council’s beleaguered service users and residents are not taken seriously by beleaguered service users and residents, and now addressed Central Government, there is no hope for the upholding of any, never mind all, ‘standards of behaviour and conduct in public office’, in Wirral Council.

    Councillors take on positions of responsibility, such as Cllr Tony Smith being the Labour Cabinet lead for Children’s Services. Why? Presumably because he is considered to be the most competent councillor for this particular role. However, the way the Council has been manipulated now means that very few councillors form the judge, jury, and executioner. This in turn means that accepting the responsibility for an additional key role, and the kudos and financial reward that accompanies such an exalted position, ensures that all responsibility for a debacle such as the Ofsted Inspection Report is abdicated because your ‘club members’, shall we call them, particularly those overseeing a sham scrutiny function, will protect you in any circumstances.

    In my opinion, the act of effectively trivialising the seriousness of these appalling failings, by both ruling and opposition councillors, by an ineffectual response (as usual) continually endorses behaviour and conduct that has no place for holders of any public office.

    It is possible to chart the progress of the contagion of the Pollyanna Principle over time in Wirral Council. The ‘Wirral Today’ newspaper is the latest manifestation of this blight on this local authority. This ‘newspaper’ is not remotely concerned with Wirral residents’ need for information. It is a self-perpetuating, entirely introspective, self-endorsement of all things Wirral Council.

    “Problem families? No problem! Children’s Safeguarding Board? No problem! We’re not overly optimistic…we’re just the victims of external scrutiny and reality checks.” Yes, WBC Members and Officers do genuinely see themselves as the victims, so the self-protection instinct (because they all appear to have something on each other) of ‘club membership’, swiftly closes ranks.

    Pollyanna Principle – meets – Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) – latest result?

    Wirral Today

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