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Tuesday, 30 September 2014

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Anger over cash package for Cumbria's failing children's director

The woman in charge of Cumbria’s crisis-hit children’s services team as it was twice condemned as inadequate walked away from her job with an £87,000 golden goodbye.

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Ex-boss: Julia Morrison

In addition to her £125,000-a-year salary, Julia Morrison received the lump sum when she quit her job at Cumbria County Council – taking the cash she received during her last year to £212,000.

Pension contributions to which she was entitled, take the worth of her final financial package to £228,509.

Ms Morrison presided over a troubled period when child protection services in the county were repeatedly criticised by Ofsted inspectors for failing to adequately protect the most vulnerable youngsters, putting some at risk.

She went on leave from Cumbria County Council for health reasons in the aftermath of a damning report last year which labelled the operation she oversaw as failing – sparking serious concerns about long-standing problems with the operation.

Ms Morrison announced in March that she was stepping down from her job as director of children’s services to pursue interests outside the county.

Details of the cash package she left with have been revealed in the council’s accounts for the last financial year, which also confirmed the £411,000 golden handshake received by former chief executive Jill Stannard.

The amounts paid out have been condemned by Carlisle’s MP as a waste of taxpayers’ money.

Council chiefs, however, insist a restructuring involving their most senior executives will save them £584,000-a-year as the authority slashes nearly £90m from its budget in the next three years – cuts that could reduce its workforce by another 600.

A county council spokesman said: “In addition to ordinary salary and pension contributions, the former director of children’s services received £87,384 upon leaving the organisation, in line with the council’s statutory obligations.

“As a result of the senior officer restructuring that took place last year, the council will achieve a permanent annual saving of £584,000.”

In its report on children’s services last year, Ofsted found that “significant numbers of children” required immediate action because of a failure to take swift and necessary steps to safeguard them.

Though the director had demonstrated “leadership and commitment,” the protection being offered to children, young people, families and carers was deemed inadequate.

Inspectors also found a failure to provide emergency accommodation for some at risk young people, some of who had to be detained in police custody overnight.

Work to bring children’s services up to scratch – including recruiting more social workers – is underway with Cumbria’s independent safeguarding improvement board stating improvements are being made

On news of Ms Morrison’s payout, Taxpayers’ Alliance chief executive Jonathan Isaby said: “Coming so soon after the release of Jill Stannard’s payout, this revelation suggests a culture of irresponsibility at the council when it comes to the size of the pensions being dished out.

“Money doesn’t grow on trees. It comes from hard-working taxpayers and it’s nothing short of immoral to waste it.

“It’s clear these employees deserved a pension, but the cost of them beggars belief.”

Carlisle MP John Stevenson is also critical.

He said: “Essentially, £600,000 of taxpayers’ money has been wasted. The council complains about cutbacks, then has spent £600,000 which has achieved absolutely nothing. There have been few savings made.

“They are going to need a new director of children’s services and have got a new chief executive. This is a misuse of taxpayers’ money.”

County council chiefs insist they are making savings at the highest levels, with corporate directors reduced from five to four and assistant directors from 18 to 16.

The next tier of management is now being scrutinised as part of savings steps.

By 2018, the county council will have £200m less to spend each year when compared with the start of the decade – equivalent to a cut of about £870 for every household in Cumbria.

A spokesman added: “Reducing the number of people who work for organisations is never cost-free.

“With respect to local government, these costs are an inevitable consequence of the government’s decision to cut council funding as part of its efforts to balance the nation’s books and the speed of change needed for the council to reduce its long-term management costs.

“The council has nonetheless planned as prudently as possible for the scale of change. As part of this process, the council has set aside dedicated resources to meet the cost of restructuring – much of which is related to pension costs or governed by related legislation. It is from these dedicated resources that these costs are met.”

As part of cost cutting, Ms Stannard’s successor, Diane Wood, is paid £140,000 a year, compared to the £170,000 salary Ms Stannard received.

In the last three years, more than 900 council staff have taken redundancy or been made redundant.

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