Words Fail Me
I have been seriously considering how to phrase this blog post. Since the rumours started I’ve wondered if it could possibly be true. Could a person, a local politician, really act in such a disreputable way? I know that a number of jokes spring to mind after that question, but this isn’t a laughing matter. This is bloody grim, in my opinion.
My problem is that, while generally being quite a relaxed sort of guy, the one thing that really really pushes my buttons are bullies. I hate them. Nasty little oiks who get their jollies demeaning others and finding ways to make vulnerable people feel bad about themselves. As such, when something that smacks of bullying comes to my attention I don’t always trust myself to be reasonable about it. And as a local politician, getting angry is a surefire way to end up in deep water. So I’ve taken a few deep breaths before writing this blog post. And it hasn’t helped in the slightest.
As you might have guessed, this is UKIP again. Of course it is. Who else, right? Apparently, there has been an incident which has triggered multiple complaints and a cross-party letter of complaint at Cambridgeshire County Council. It boils down to the allegation that a bunch of vulnerable kids, who simply wanted to share their experiences with councillors (and had the courage to do so) were asked how they feel about being “takers from society” in a pretty nasty verbal attack by Cllr. Gillick.
Right in front of a roomful of people, in the middle of their presentation, Gillick is alleged to have apparently decided (for some bizarre reason) these kids need taking down a peg or two. What a very Big Man he must have felt. It’s a shame he didn’t consider that he gets paid seven grand a year to spout this sort of crap and then consider who, actually, is the taker from society in truth. Of course, this remains an allegation at this point. I wasn’t there to hear it (more’s the pity.) But it’s an allegation that I am told has spawned a fistful of different complaints and a cross-party letter.
As if these kids chose to have to leave their homes and be taken into care, right? As if the unfortunate turn of events were somehow their fault. They come out to help councillors understand their situation, so that councillors can better understand their role as a Corporate Parent – and how are they thanked? Bloody hell. This was a councillor from our area. I’m ashamed.
Other opposition parties have their ups and downs and we certainly have our differences. But there is just no way that the Lib Dems, or Labour, or the Greens, would have said something like this. I could go on, but right now I don’t trust myself to do so. These are vulnerable kids, for Christ’s sake.
This is the wording of the cross-party complaint, which has been issued against Gillick. You decide how to feel about it:-
Letter of complaint against Cllr Gillick
This is a letter of complaint concerning Cllr Gordon Gillick, arising from his actions at a Member Seminar on Safeguarding on 6 November 2013.
Members were informed via Group Leaders of the mandatory requirement to attend the Safeguarding seminar, on account of their statutory role as Corporate Parents for Looked After Children in Cambridgeshire. Members had had one or two opportunities to attend such a seminar following the May elections but for those who had been unable to do so, a final opportunity was arranged and it was conveyed to us that we absolutely had to get this training under our belts, six months now into our terms of office.
The seminar opened with a full and frank background information presentation by a council officer. The essence was that Looked After Children have through a variety of most unfortunate circumstances had to be removed from their birth homes for the simple reason that they would otherwise be at risk of abuse or neglect. This she explained very emphatically was a most extreme measure that the authority would do everything in its power to avoid, if at all possible. For a child, the act of removal from his or her home and immediate family causes a profound unique personal loss. Outcomes for that child will be poorer than for other children in society.
Therefore, everything that happens in the child’s life from that point forward must put the interests of the child first. A good example given was that in the adoption and fostering services, while many adults want very keenly to adopt or foster because of their own desire to care for a child, the match to a new family must be oriented solely from the child’s point of view – it is the child’s need for the best possible new home environment that must dictate the choice as to where he or she should go, rather than the fulfilment of an adult’s need to experience the parenting role, however profound that might be.
Given that Looked After Children have experienced such profound loss, the immediate challenge is then to create the kind of secure and caring environment to which every child has a natural right. Further, the Local Authority then has a legal duty to protect Looked-After Children from abuse and neglect. This is why the scrutiny of social care is so important.
The council officer then explained the very demanding role of social workers in representing the interests of Looked After Children, not only because of the profound nature of children’s loss which social workers must be able to work sensitively with, but also because of the requirement to attend court hearings and to testify in front of highly experienced barristers.
At this point the council officer was interrupted by Cllr Gillick who shouted along the lines of, ‘These are secret courts, aren’t they! Come on, tell us the truth!’ The audience was clearly agitated by this outburst.
Another officer then spoke about the children themselves, trying to convey what the world looks like from their perspective. An animated film, ‘My Name is Joe’, had been made by a group of Looked After Children, in order to convey some of the emotions that are simply impossible to express in any other way. We were told that some of these children were to visit us shortly, during the seminar. The central point that was made by two council officers, who spoke after the group of young people arrived, was: ‘You as members are Corporate Parents of our Looked After Children. Please when you think about these children remember to strive for the very best outcomes for them, just as you would for your own children. It is up to Corporate Parents to fight the corner of Looked After Children and to make sure that they have the chance of the same opportunities, the same protection and care, and the same outcomes, as your own children.’
Three young people then arrived and seated themselves at the top table, facing the room full of councillors and officers: two young women and one young man. They talked for a bit, introducing themselves, explaining briefly where they live, and told councillors about making the film.
A key point made in the film was that while a young person might try on the exterior to indicate that he or she is coping, inside they may be breaking apart: little things like wanting to know if when they move into a strange new bedroom in a care or foster home they can hang posters on the wall and decorate the room to make it their own, and how unsettling that simple thing is to wonder about; if and when they will see their siblings, or friends, or their home ever again; won’t it be great to reach adulthood and then to be ‘free’ – but later as the film says, adulthood turns out to be even more scary (‘I didn’t know how expensive food was; how do I get the utility company to sort my heating; I’m alone and there’s no one around me to care for me or help me with the tasks of simply living – I’m alone and I want to go back to the care home/foster home’).
After the film was screened, members were invited to ask questions. Some new members explained that they had gone to visit children’s homes in their area to acquaint themselves and try and build relationships. Many compliments were expressed about the film and we heard some anecdotes from the young people about the making of it, for example having to paint every frame in order to achieve a certain visual quality, and the camaraderie of making carrying out the project together.
Cllr Gillick was then called to speak. He blurted out in an aggressive manner, directing his question in a sneering tone at the three young people: “Can you tell us: how does it feel to be takers from the system?’
A council officer stepped forward to respond. But the young people took the initiative and wanted to be in charge of their own situation. The young man said, ‘It’s OK, we can answer for ourselves.’ The young woman in the middle said, ‘Actually we hate having to take anything. We don’t want to take. We want to be independent and provide for ourselves. That’s the whole point.’
Many hands went up in the audience as members tried to ask questions and make comments that indicated their support for the young people, who had made clear their private dignity and set the tone of going forward. One Member picked up on something that the young man had said about the armed forces. He mentioned that he had been in the Marines for six years and was happy to offer his time if there was anything useful he could contribute. There was a concerted effort by members to disassociate themselves from Cllr Gillick.
Cllr Gillick then got up before the presentation finished, and left the room.
As the seminar proceeded the incident was not mentioned; instead all focus was on the making of the film and what it symbolized. A round of applause was given when it was time for the young people to leave. The officer who accompanied the young people reported that as they left the room and were walking out of the building, in spite of their calm exterior before the seminar audience they were extremely upset and intent on filing a complaint against Cllr Gillick.
The second part of the seminar, which focused on adult Safeguarding, included a detailed discussion on the definition of abuse and the fact that it can manifest itself in many ways. The young people at the seminar had received a very public and perverse form of abuse that evening by a councillor who had just received detailed background on the predicament of Looked After Children and his responsibility as a Corporate Parent to protect them from abuse and neglect.
We are concerned that Cllr Gillick broke the Member’s Code of Conduct by:
a. bullying – his tone, style and language were inappropriate in any context but particularly when speaking to younger people and visitors, specifically those who were the subject and purpose of the meeting.
b. the sentiment he expressed, i.e. insensitivity to the very people for whom we are collectively responsible, brings the council into disrepute.
We therefore feel it necessary to take action, both on behalf of the three Looked After Children who were the subject of Cllr Gillick’s comments, and also to ensure that there is no repetition of this unacceptable behaviour from a County Councillor.