Skip to main content

0800 917 1000   Open weekdays 9am-5pm

IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Children in the care of Lambeth Council Investigation Report


F.3: A state of chaos

6. The disqualification of more than 30 Labour councillors in 1986, as set out above, led to a period of turmoil. Ms Joan Twelves, one of those who subsequently took office in 1986 and subsequently leader of Lambeth Council between 1989 and 1991, recognised the effect of disqualification:

the effect of it, when you look back at it, was enormous. Some people were very highly qualified. We had a couple of people who had worked in senior positions in other councils and knew how things were meant to work … But the majority had no experience of the council at all, and therefore, depending on what their jobs were in ordinary life, it totally was, you know, pot luck almost.”[1]

7. Dr Josephine Kwhali (formerly Ms Josie Durrant) was a social worker in Lambeth between 1983 and 1989. She worked initially in children’s day care services, and was subsequently the assistant director children and young persons division from mid-1987 to March 1989. She described the situation as:

There were major budgetary issues, I assume arising from the failure to set a budget. There were recruitment freezes … there were gaps in senior management and middle management across the children’s services. We were working excessively long hours against the background of, as I said, competing pressures and significant challenges at that time.”[2]

8. The failure to set a council tax rate in 1986 must have constituted a huge distraction and required energies and resources that ought to have been focussed on frontline services. Mr Stephen Whaley was another who first became a councillor in 1986. He considered that his background as a trade unionist in a university provided him with experience of working under pressure, but he viewed the situation in 1986 as extraordinary.[3] He considered “the pursuit of an ideological opposition to the government[4] (during the previous leadership of councillor Ted Knight) meant more energy had been spent by his predecessors on confronting the government than dealing with the issues within Lambeth Council:

the council started to be run as a political campaign rather than necessarily as an organ for delivering services to the people.[5]

This and the cycle of crises and damning reports (discussed in Part I) – contributed to its inability to attract good staff, as reflected in consistently high numbers of children not being allocated a social worker. In turn, this impacted upon children’s safety and protection.

9. Mr Whaley also described further turmoil in 1991 when Labour councillors were suspended by the national party because they were acting against its policy in various areas. The councillors became a minority group in their own right within Lambeth Council. Mr Whaley described how factions among councillors were able to stifle decision-making:

what would happen is that something would be voted down, but then, because they would then switch allegiance so that they then put it back up again, so you ended up with an inability to make a decision.”[6]

Labour continued to have control in Lambeth until 1994, when the local election resulted in no party having overall control of the Council.

10. This coincided with the appointment of Dame Heather Rabbatts as the chief executive in 1995. Her appointment came in the aftermath of the Appleby report and she described “overwhelming chaos” within Lambeth Council.[7] She regarded the Appleby report analysis as:

hugely accurate and really shines a light on what was decades of political mismanagement. This had gone on for over 20 years. Lambeth was behaving, in many ways, unlawfully. It wasn’t collecting its rates. It had huge numbers of public interest reports because it did not abide by the requirements of a public service organisation, and that was very much inspired by the politicians during that time and also, in particular, an ideological view that there should be a system of tripartite government, or local government, which meant that the trade unions were heavily involved and there was a real undermining of any sense of managerial leadership or managerial authority.”[8]

11. Within three months of her arrival in Lambeth there was a major crisis in the community care budget, which was overspent by mid-year (against a political priority of not increasing council tax).[9] She regarded it as absolutely shocking that this should have occurred and it was agreed that Mr Pope would leave.[10]

12. Dame Heather Rabbatts also described that on her arrival there was an inability of management to discipline staff. She regarded trade unions as having access to elected members and management as being “very much cowed”.[11] This view was supported by Mr Whaley, who considered that middle managers were hesitant to discipline staff because “the political leadership might be perceived to side with the trade unions”.[12] He did not think that councillors interfered or sided with trade unions in disciplinary hearings, but rather that trade union officials “had a close ear of the councillors” and that councillors had a tendency to listen to unions.[13] This would subsequently be reflected in their decisions in disqualification or grievance hearings.

13. Mr (now Lord) Herman Ouseley was the race relations adviser to Lambeth Council in 1979, assistant chief executive between 1984 and 1986 and chief executive of Lambeth Council between 1990 and 1993. He told us about his attempts as chief executive to tackle the direct labour organisations, which had been implicated in corrupt practices. He described impediments to making progress in Lambeth. Having informed the then leader of the council that he needed to remove three directors if progress was to be made, within minutes Mr Ouseley:

then had a telephone call from the chair of one of the committees representing one of the directors I was referring to, telling me that under no circumstances under no circumstances his director would be leaving and if I think that’s what I’m going to get up to, I’ve got something else coming”.[14]

Lord Ouseley also explained that much of his three-year tenure as chief executive was taken up with the investigation of fraud, but “every time we got close to evidence, the evidence vanished.[15]

14. It is clear that for many years – between the 1980s and into the 1990s – the political agenda of elected councillors and the consequences of that agenda dominated Lambeth Council. The 1980s appears to have seen the origins of the state of crisis or near crisis that continued over the ensuing years. The impression created is that Lambeth Council’s lack of order and control meant it was incapable of effecting change or dealing with anything other than each immediate crisis.

15. This lack of order and a failure to effect meaningful change within children’s services persisted into the 2000s. As set out in the Barratt final report (discussed in Part I.4):

  • Lambeth Council – through its inadequate arrangements in the Social Services Committee and children’s social care – repeatedly failed to fulfil both its statutory duties and its own policies relating to the care and protection of children;
  • it repeatedly tried and failed to create and control an effective children’s social care department; and
  • the chain of command (if it had ever existed) linking department action to councillors had decayed and disintegrated.[16]

The Barratt final report also noted that it would be unfair not to recognise that Lambeth Council repeatedly tried to bring its children’s services up to a proper standard and that the reforms had been effective in some respects. It referred, for example, to three major reorganisations (in 1991/2, 1993/4 and 1995/6) and detailed ‘action plans’ put forward by staff in 1993/4 and 1997.[17]

16. Further crises in 1998 related to the allegations about Mr Steven Forrest and in 2000 in relation to fostering also demonstrate that there remained serious and deep-rooted problems concerning the care of children by Lambeth Council.

Back to top