Birmingham & Black Country

Birmingham children's services boss quits before starting

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Media captionBernie McNally had been due to take up the post at the beginning of November

The person appointed to take over as executive director for children's services in Birmingham is "no longer interested in taking up the role", the city council has said.

Bernie McNally had been due to take up the post at the beginning of November.

Birmingham's children's services have been rated inadequate since 2008.

Serious case reviews followed the deaths of youngsters including Khyra Ishaq in 2008 and Keanu Williams in 2011.

'Mutual agreement'

There were 20 investigations over child deaths from 2007 to November 2013, although not all the children were known to social services.

Birmingham City Council said the news was "disappointing" as it thought it had appointed "an excellent candidate".

Ms McNally was previously social services executive director at the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust.

Changing faces of children's services

Birmingham City Council's children's services department has had four strategic directors since 2006.

  • Tony Howell headed the department between April 2006 and January 2011. During his time in charge there were 14 serious case reviews, the most high-profile being that of Khyra Ishaq. In July 2010, six months before his retirement, Ofsted found the department failed to protect vulnerable children and branded it "inadequate".
  • Eleanor Brazil served as interim director from 2011 to April 2012 and was reportedly paid £1,000 a day. While Ms Brazil led the department, Keanu Williams was murdered by his mother, Rebecca Shuttleworth, in January 2011. No serious case reviews were published in 2011-12.
  • Peter Duxbury stayed in post for 15 months until July 2013. He left due to "private family matters". No serious case reviews were commissioned while he was in charge.
  • After Mr Duxbury's departure Peter Hay, the council's strategic director of people, stepped in to oversee the department. In September 2013 council leader Sir Albert Bore said establishing "permanent management arrangements" for children's services was the "most urgent issue facing the council".

The council statement said: "During the introductory period in October which was arranged in preparation for this, Bernie decided that she was no longer interested in taking up the role, and by mutual agreement will not be proceeding with the appointment."

Eleni Ioannides has been appointed interim children's services director.

'Directionless'

Ms Ioannides previously headed Bury's Children's Services department from 2005 until 2010, when she took early retirement.

Birmingham City Council said she would bring "the approach and focus we need at this time".

Image copyright West Midlands Police
Image caption Keanu Williams died in January 2011 after being found with 37 injuries

Tony Rabaiotti, West Midlands regional manager for Unison, said the department had been left "directionless".

"What Birmingham City Council needs in children's services is direct, strong leadership," he said.

Mr Rabaiotti said there were still too many social worker vacancies, with gaps being filled by agency workers.

Analysis by Phil Mackie, BBC news correspondent

To lose one senior manager in a department appears unfortunate, to lose so many over the past few years has started to look careless. Bernie McNally's departure - before she'd officially started - is the just the latest in a long line of PR disasters for a department that has been in special measures since 2009.

There are chronic problems at children's services; staff shortages, high workloads, a tarnished public image and a city with some of the worst rates of poverty and deprivation in the country. But Ms McNally must have known all of that before signing on, and so it leaves a "disappointed" council facing embarrassing questions about its recruitment policy, and suggests to observers things might be even worse than previously thought.

It is also a shame. I know that Peter Hay, Brigid Jones and their teams have worked hard on making progress and were becoming more confident about improved outcomes.

Labour MP Khalid Mahmood said Ms McNally's departure was a "big blow" to the children's services department.

"We need people who will actually take it forward," he said.

The Birmingham Perry Barr MP added that he would endeavour to find out exactly why Ms McNally had stepped down.

Earlier this week, a report published by the Birmingham Commission for Children called for social services to be devolved across the city's 10 districts.

It said statutory services should be organised on such a basis "as far as possible".

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