Edinburgh children's home abuse: It's one of the most appalling scandals city council has faced, but councillors shut down debate – John McLellan

They rambled, waffled and stammered to talk about anything other than one of the most appalling scandals Edinburgh Council has faced.

Thursday, 24th March 2022, 4:55 am
Edinburgh councillors ran down the clock and avoided a discussion of the treatment of children in Edinburgh’s secure units, says John McLellan (Picture: Neil Hanna)
Edinburgh councillors ran down the clock and avoided a discussion of the treatment of children in Edinburgh’s secure units, says John McLellan (Picture: Neil Hanna)

At last week’s final full council meeting before the election, SNP and Labour councillors dutifully played their part in deeply cynical manoeuvrings to avoid public debate about the violent abuse of young people in the council’s care, and to shield those senior officers ultimately responsible.

Despite people packing pubs, clubs and shops, the meeting was by video to maintain social distancing, so the rules meant no debates after 5pm.

As the afternoon wore on, council leader Adam McVey seemed to be covering their tracks by repeatedly claiming they didn’t want to waste time because there was a lot of business to get through, while his colleagues queued to run down the clock and avoid discussing the treatment of children in Edinburgh’s secure units.

The windbaggery was enough to solve Scotland’s energy crisis. For it to be the final act on this council by the likes of ex-Lord Provost Donald Wilson should be a stain on their records.

And when it came to a vote to hold a debate moved by my colleague Jim Campbell, up popped Green councillor Chas Booth, to do the dishonours and propose no discussion so the whole rotten lot of them could close it down.

No-one should forget this was over a report which found “illegality, maladministration and injustice” in Edinburgh Secure Services (ESS) for over a decade until 2020, following December’s report from Susanne Tanner QC which found the authority lacked a "safe and supportive" culture for whistle-blowers, which included brief references to the ESS investigation.

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The Tanner Report hasn’t scratched the surface of what is really going on, and the unanswered questions are mounting by the day. She, of course, has moved on, despite misleading assertions at the February council meeting that she would meet complainants on request.

So last week’s meeting got off to an unedifying start with an apology from Lord Provost Frank Ross “for any confusion”, the fall-guy in a trio with Cllr McVey and chief executive Andrew Kerr who had all made the claim.

Mr Kerr also may have inadvertently misled another committee this month, saying no complainants had approached him for a meeting when that was not true, and two years ago he might have misremembered a compensation payment made to a woman who suffered abuse while a pupil at Castlebrae High School, which was only confirmed after police were called in to investigate.

He might also wish to misremember that he allowed the communities and families director, responsible for overseeing ESS and on whose watch the cover-up of senior social worker Sean Bell’s abuses continued, to quit immediately with full notice payment and ringing endorsements.

Nor should anyone be fooled into thinking this is over. There is a litany of failure to deliver on past recommendations for improvements in education and social care services. Police are still involved. There are concerns about conditions in Kaimes special school.

Meanwhile the authority wastes time and money on drivel like the Coalition Commitments and the vacuous 2050 Vision, but all we hear from administration councillors is what a wonderful job the council is doing.

When it comes to empty rhetoric and shameless avoidance of accountability, Edinburgh Council is world class.

John McLellan is a Conservative councillor for Craigentinny/Duddingston

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