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- Accountability - Hodge should go if responsible

Margaret Hodge - Speech to the LGA - 8 July 2003

I am delighted that the first opportunity I have to address an audience in my new role as Minister for Children is a local government audience. You are our key partners. Working together we will develop and deliver for children.
I am honoured to have been appointed to this new post. I see it as an opportunity to build on the progress of recent years; to make a real difference to the lives of children and their families.
I stand ready to be judged on what I achieve.
I have spent the last fortnight working with others and in particular with Paul Boateng who has been leading on these issues to date, meeting a wide range of professionals and organisations, as we come to grips with some of the vital challenges we need to tackle.
And if the dreaded pager does go off in the middle of my speech I can promise you it won’t be a pre-determined way of getting me out of your reach. It will be the Whips summoning me to a pretty important vote in the House, on Foundation Hospitals which as a member of the Government I want to and indeed must participate in.
However if I am called away, I promise you I will be back, not just today, but over the coming weeks, months and hopefully years as I get on with doing the job the Prime Minister asked me to do.
Originally this Conference was timed to coincide with the publication of the Green Paper. I am sorry if there is disappointment at the delay. I want you to know four things.

First, the fact that the Prime Minister wants to be personally involved in the launch of the document is a very good thing and something we should all welcome. It demonstrates his personal commitment and that of the whole Government to the well-being, safety, health and opportunities for children. In my 30 years in public life I think that is an unparalleled commitment.
Second, I want to emphasise that I have come late to the Green Paper. The driving force in its production has been and remains Paul Boateng. He has made an enormous personal commitment to the project which must not be forgotten.
Third, the extra time will enable me, having only just arrived in post, to talk again to all of you to ensure that I have a clear view of your priorities and concerns.
Fourth and most importantly, the delay in publication of what is indeed a ‘Green’ paper will not stop us taking any necessary immediate action to further the interests of children.
So later this week I shall be announcing, together with Stephen Ladyman the first pathfinders who will be exploring ways of developing joint working through Children’s Trusts.
Also in the next few days I will be launching with Paul Boateng a document consulting on our ideas on how to spend the £25 million we have for the Parenting Fund to support parents in their communities.
And two weeks ago I launched together with Charles Clarke the first Children’s Centres; these are existing facilities where services are available to children across the professional divide, from childcare to parenting support, from nursery education to community health services, demonstrating in practice this Government’s vision for children and their families.
My post and the new Directorate in the DfES gives all of us who work with and have a commitment to children, young people and their families a historic opportunity (and just as an aside, I hope that I shall be able to use the title of Minister for Children, Young people and Families very soon, so that I can properly reflect my job in my job title.)
I think this is the most exiting job in Government. It firmly demonstrates what I passionately believe to be right. That every child matters. That every child must have the opportunity to fulfil their potential. That we can not allow children’s life chances to be blighted by the age of five because of where they live or where they come from. That every child must be properly protected so that they are safe. And that no child should be denied the chance to make the most of their lives. These are the values which will underpin our Green Paper on Children.
These are the values that will drive our reforms and these are the values on which we will build a coalition of support so that every child’s potential is fulfilled.
I want to set out what I believe are the five central pillars of our reform agenda and to then touch on some of these issues.
First we shall put children at the heart of everything we do. All our services must be planned, developed and delivered around the needs and wants of children, young people and their families. We all know that for too long, services have been broken up in different places. Children have not always been put first. We can now put this right. The new job and the new organisation gives us all the opportunity to transform in a radical and profound way the services we deliver.
We started to do this when we created Sure Start and when we brought together early years education, health, childcare and family support under one umbrella with children’s needs at the centre of everything. In 1998 this was seen as a revolution in children’s services. In 2003 it is a model which is envied around the world.
Our second pillar of reform is to start early. In the past Britain lagged behind other countries in our investment in early years. We are changing that. With nearly 500 Sure Start centres, with nursery education available for all 4 year olds and most 3 year olds, with the development of publicly funded childcare services up and down the country we are demonstrating by what we have done, the importance of the early years. We know that children’s life chances are determined by what happens in the first years of their lives. If we are to ensure opportunity for all we must give children the very best start at the beginning of their lives.
But our third pillar is to recognise that children, young people and their families need support throughout the time in which they grow up and develop. Their needs will change as they move through different ages and different stages. So we will be building on what we have already done with the Children’s Fund, the Connexions Service, the introduction of Education Maintenance Allowances and other programmes. We shall plan and deliver a range of services which respond to individual needs and which offer different help at different times.
Our fourth pillar is to ensure that running through all our policies and all our programmes there is a commitment and determination to protect children at risk and to support children with particular needs. By making sure that keeping children safe is at the heart of all we do we shall provide better support and greater certainty for those children who are at risk of harm and injury. We are dealing with complex issues and there are no easy answers. But in the work we do we must strive to minimise risk and maximise opportunity.
And our final fifth pillar is to strengthen and develop services which support parents and families in their most important job of bringing up their children. Parents want the best for their children. Our job is to provide the right support at the right time in the right way. This is in part about building new services, like Sure Start giving help to mums and dads in the very first days of their children’s lives. And it’s about bringing services together under one roof in the Sure Start centre, the Children’s centre, the Extended School centre. Too many parents get lost in the system; there are too many hoops through which they are forced to climb, too much bureaucracy which grinds them down. Our job is to change that and to create a new settlement for children and their families which will transform their lives.
All of you, whether you come from a health, education, social services or adult community services background have skills, knowledge and expertise which is both relevant and important.
What we all need to do is to grasp and value that individual professional expertise, but break down the traditional professional silos which have inhibited professionals from talking to each other and working together.
That is not just absolutely vital to protect children at risk as we learn time and time again from the deaths of children and most recently from Lord Laming’s Inquiry into the tragic death of Victoria Climbie.
It is equally important for all our children if we are to enable them to develop their full potential and grow up as happy, healthy and well-rounded individuals with a positive contribution to make to society.
Of course, there is already plenty of good practice that has developed on the ground, across the country, much of it the result of imagination and commitment from people in local government.
There is also the experience we are gaining from some of the national programmes.
Let me first focus again on Sure Start which I know so well because I was Minister for Early Years when we were developing the programme.
Sure Start is now widely acknowledged as being an innovative and effective intervention. By bringing together in one place all the services which impinge on a child’s life in their early years, from the family support kicking in before the child is born, to the important contribution made by health visitors and organisations like Home Start in the very first days of the child’s life; from the earlier identification of a child’s special needs in programmes like the neonatal screening programmes for hearing to the early education offered by teachers often working on children’s cognitive development in integrated settings from a very early age; from quality childcare to programmes supporting parents; from developing new networks with other mums and dads to providing opportunities for work, particularly for lone parents to create a route for them out of poverty, bringing all this together in one programme means that we are able to create a whole which is much stronger than the sum of its parts. We are able to make a real difference on the ground to children’s life chances. And for the most vulnerable, we are better able to prevent children being at risk.
However the challenges remain huge. First we have to see how we can practically mainstream into all our programmes what we have learnt works in the targeted programmes. The opportunities we are developing for some children must be available for all children. That is partly about resources but it is also about all of us changing the way we work and changing the way we use existing resources.
Secondly we know from research conducted in America around the Head Start programme that early interventions only work if they are of high quality and if they are sustained throughout a child’s life.
And thirdly we know that the cultural changes demanded of professionals to work in these new ways is difficult and challenging. So we must provide proper and continuous support and training to embed the new ways of working in the culture of the workplace. We must value the different strengths of different professional backgrounds, but recognise the importance of integrated multi-agency delivery.

The Government has now decided to locate a whole range of services within the Department for Education and Skills (DfES). I think bringing these services together in the Education department is of itself an important statement. Education is the universal service which touches every child, so what we are saying is that we are constructing an entitlement for all our children and young people, a universal entitlement, into which we shall place the essential targeted support that some children will need, support because they are at risk in their home, because they have a special need or a disability, because they are truanting or disengaged from education and training or – when they are older – work, because they have developed anti-social patterns of behaviour, be it bullying or creating disruption and chaos on the estates or in the communities in which they reside, or because they have offended and have broken the law.

Providing these targeted services within a universal context is in my view the best way of minimizing the need for targeted intervention and targeted support. It is about preventing the need for intervention whilst still ensuring strong and appropriate intervention where necessary.
So in the new directorate in the DfES, we shall bring together many existing services; all the early years services which come under the Sure Start umbrella, the Sure Start projects, the childcare programme, the early education responsibilities and the Children’s Centres.
We shall incorporate all the Special Educational Needs Division, the work on Extended Schools, all the study support programmes, the Children’s Fund programmes, the Connexions Service and the Youth Service.
We are bringing over into the DfES the unit in the Home Office that has responsibility for Family Policy and all the Government programmes which aim to support families. They will be brought under one roof in our directorate – including the new Parenting Fund - which gave us new resources to strengthen the voluntary sector support for families in the last Spending Review.
All the children’s social services programmes will be incorporated into the directorate as will the Teenage Pregnancy programme and unit which previously sat in the Department of Health.
And many of the family support functions which previously resided in the Lord Chancellor’s Department will also be integrated into the new directorate. So responsibility for the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) and the court welfare services as well as policy responsibility for family law will come into the directorate.
This reorganisation is a massive undertaking and will have huge implications. Let me say two or three things about that.
First this is NOT a takeover by the DfES. This is a genuine determination to break down unhelpful professional boundaries to create a better integrated service which values each and every individual professional contribution.
So for instance, one of my early tasks will be to raise the status of social work, to see how we can provide better routes and opportunities into the profession, to provide an improved professional training and development offer which allows people from different backgrounds to grow their knowledge and expertise. And to grow the workforce so that children are not left at risk of abuse because we haven’t got enough people to protect them.
But we also want these professionals to work more closely with other professionals who touch children and young people’s lives. Only when we get better at working together across the boundaries can we be certain that we are making every effort to prevent tragedies like the death of Victoria Climbie occurring again.
Of course we can never say we will always prevent the death of an innocent child, but we must act and learn from what so many inquiries have told us, that sharing information and working together is critical to ensuring that our children are safe.
That is a key objective of the Government’s reorganisation proposals. Much of this will be fleshed out in the Green Paper, but the direction of travel is clear.
The reorganisation will have a profound effect on the DfES itself. The presence of this new directorate will impact hugely on the way the DfES works and I know that Charles Clarke when he argued that we should be responsible for these integrated children’s services, was very clear about the benefit this would bring to all children, young people and their families.
I am also very conscious of the fact that the reorganisation only affects some services and some people. We will still have boundaries across which we will need to work. For instance, the whole range of community health services, from midwives to health visitors to consultant paediatricians to children’s mental health services will remain with the Department of Health. Similarly the Youth Justice Boards and the Youth Offending Teams will remain with the Home Office.
Ensuring we join these services at national as well as local level is essential. And already in my first two weeks in the job Stephen Ladyman at the Department of Health and I have set up joint working arrangements so that we both own the National Standards that are being developed around children’s health services. And I hope that some of the proposals in the Green Paper will further support the integrated working we want.
However the creation of a Minister for Children opens opportunities beyond the boundaries of the departmental reorganisation. It enables me to champion children’s issues across Government in a clear and focussed way. On a whole range of public service issues and policies my officials and I will be able to bring the children’s perspective to bear on the debate across Government.
Of course this is not a substitute for a direct voice for children and we are considering how to give effect to this voice in the proposals we are including in the Green Paper.
But I would find it inconceivable to do my job without having direct access to and knowledge of children and young people’s views. The value system which underpins the Government’s approach to public service reform is predicated on our belief that we must construct services which reflect the needs and priorities of the user, not the producer and where the emphasis is on the outcomes achieved, rather than the inputs provided. So building services which listen, hear and understand the views of children and young people is central to what we are about.
The challenges we will face are huge. Will we have sufficient resources? How can we use what we have to best effect? How do we build a new culture in the workplace where professional competition and distrust is replaced by professional collaboration and mutual respect? How do we best organise the new world so that within a universal offer for all children and young people we make sure that we provide a safe environment and protect all the children at risk?
And we will always have some difficult judgements to make. How do we balance the privacy to which all families are entitled with our over-riding duty to protect children? How do we ensure we provide good and appropriate support for children and families without being seen as patronising and overbearing? How do we promote the interests of an individual child whilst at the same time protecting and promoting the interests of all children?
The challenges are tough. But the opportunity is unparalleled.
With my new job, our new organisation and our proposals in the forthcoming Green Paper we have the most wonderful opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of children.
Let’s seize that opportunity with all the energy and commitment we have and use it to transform the future. I know that’s what I intend to do. I hope you will work with me too in this endeavour.

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