Social Services

During the 13 years from 1984 to 1997, despite the need for continuity in such an important area of service provision, there were six chairs of the Social Services Committee and no-one in post of Director for 14 months between the departure of Irene Walton, who was pushed out by the Labour Group leadership, and the succession of Mike Bishop, who was previously Director of Social Services at the headlining Cleveland County Council. This chapter covers those changes and the responses to failing standards in the Council’s elderly persons’ homes (EPHs) and the requirements of the Care in the Community legislation.
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An Uncontroversial Service
Social Services did not feature much in the Left/Right struggle within the Labour Party in the 1980s and there was cross-party agreement with the aims of the Tory government’s approach to ‘Care in the Community’, both in Manchester and nationally. Any Party disagreements tended to be about management of the department (or lack of it), rather than what was being done. What was true then, as now, is that Social Services only attracted political attention when a scandal or crisis arose, such as a serious child abuse case or an allegation of brutal treatment of residents at an Elderly Persons’ Home (EPH).

One consequence of the relative absence of political differences, but the constant possibility of an individual scandal, was the need to ensure that the committee chair was a ‘safe pair of hands’. Generally speaking, ambitious politicians on their way up have tended not to get over-involved in Social Services, although there have been notable exceptions, such as David Blunkett and Toby Harris.

In the Social Services section of the 1984 Manifesto, the central theme was the emphasis on community care in place of residential care, and that non-residential services for young people should be expanded, so that children in the care of the local authority could be looked after at home or with foster parents rather than in children’s homes. There was also recognition that demographic changes were increasing the number of elderly and very elderly people in the city, and that extra resources would be required for home helps, meals on wheels and warden supported housing, and that a review of EPHs was needed to ensure adequate standards in the private sector. The composition of the City Party’s Working Party on Social Services that drafted the manifesto was different from the other working parties, in that it consisted mainly of members who worked in the voluntary sector and it was less influenced by the statutory sector. Hence the support for the movement from residential to non-residential services and from large residential institutions to smaller, more sensitive residential settings.

The 1986 and 1987 manifestos followed the same principles. They also stated opposition to all government attempts to privatise Social Services, although the 1987 Manifesto did express support for the government’s Care in the Community initiative to replace long-stay institutions for mentally disabled and mentally ill people, and their resettlement back into the community.

Despite the budget pressures, a number of Elderly Persons’ Resource Units (EPRUs) were planned to provide services that would prevent or delay the necessity for residential care for elderly people. These were modelled on the pioneering work in Sheffield. The first of these – the Minehead Centre in Withington (Old Moat ward) – was opened in September 1988 and a second one was planned (at a cost of £1.2 million) for Aked Close in Ardwick ward.

Even during the more severe budget crisis caused by the introduction of the poll tax, high quality Care in the Community was still prioritised. The possibility of setting up a non-profit-making trust for the Council’s EPHs was discussed (since the revenue costs of £8.8 million would then be borne by the government), but this was not implemented until 1990.

Early Retirement of the Director of Social Services
Having not been a controversial policy area during the early 1980s, Social Services suddenly jumped up the Council’s political agenda with the planned removal of the director, Irene Walton, in the autumn of 1987 and the threatened strike action by NALGO.

Irene Walton had been a childcare officer who had worked her way up through the ranks and was highly popular with staff throughout the department. She was appointed as Director of Social Services by the incoming left-wing administration and had a good working relationship with Kath Robinson, who was Chair of the Social Services Committee from 1984 to 1986, until giving up the position to become Chair of the Council for 1986/87 (see chapter 3), and who was very closely involved in departmental management decisions. The chair’s position was then taken by Paul Clarke in 1986. He had a more arms-length view of the role of committee chair and neither wanted to, nor was able to, replicate the role played by Kath Robinson[1]. Following Paul’s defeat in the 1987 Council elections, after just one year as chair, the next person elected to the role was Rhona Graham, a probation officer with a leadership style that was closer to Paul’s than to Kath’s. Kath Robinson took up one of the deputy positions, the other being taken by Margaret Ainsworth, a former home help in the department. (See Appendix 21A for table of chairs and deputies).

Irene Walton’s management style was said by the group leadership to be ‘hands off’ or ‘laissez faire’, in that she was content to leave the management of each of the six geographical areas of Manchester to the six area directors, giving them considerable discretion to formulate policy and develop services in diverse ways. This style was anathema to the Labour Group leadership with its centralised, interventionist approach. The management structure was also thought to be top-heavy, with a weak senior management team, some of whom were hostile to the prevailing political values of the new administration. (One senior management team member allegedly made openly homophobic remarks within the department.) There was also no manager at a senior level with a clear grasp of the department’s budget and this left the department in an exposed position.

Given the scale of the budget crisis in 1987, with a budget shortfall of £110 million and all Council departments having to make substantial cuts, the Social Services Department was thought not to be taking the problem sufficiently seriously. In reality there was a group of officers working very hard in the background and preparing a major staff restructuring plan, but the department appeared to lack strong leadership, and it gave the impression that it believed the crisis would go away – as it always had done in the past. The lack of a financial strategist at the top of the department also made communication with key politicians and officers more difficult.

The second contentious issue was that the department was perceived to be dragging its feet in the implementation of Neighbourhood Services. This was a little unfair, given the specific difficulties in devolving small Social Services down to neighbourhood level[2] (see chapter 6), but there was a significant level of anger towards the director because of this issue.

The first indication for most councillors that these problems had come to a head was at a Finance Sub-committee meeting in October 1987. On the agenda was a report about the terms of an early retirement settlement for Irene Walton and, blocking the entrance to the meeting, was a group of Social Services Department employees being verbally and physically intimidating towards Frances Done, who was identified (correctly) as the prime mover behind the action taken. Frances was not only Chair of the Finance Sub-committee but also the chair and leading promoter of Neighbourhood Services, and she worked continuously and closely with Graham Stringer. The staff action was actually counter-productive as it aroused more sympathy for Frances than might otherwise have been the case, but Irene Walton was very popular with her staff and had good relationships with the departmental trade unions – hence the threatened strike action by NALGO.

Shortly after that, at a meeting of committee chairs and deputies called for another purpose, there was an overwhelming view that the circumstances that had led to the early retirement should be discussed. The official reason given for early retirement was an alleged failure to implement the Council’s personnel policies, but it wasn’t this that caused anger in the Labour Group – it was mostly centred on the way the matter had been handled.

It transpired that the Labour Group officers had consulted (but only in a limited way) the Chair of the Social Services Committee, Rhona Graham, and had driven through an agreed position. Other members of the Social Services Committee had not been consulted and Kath Robinson was very upset by what had happened. It also transpired that the relationship between Rhona and her deputies had broken down, and this needed to be tackled immediately.

At the end of an exceptionally stormy meeting, it was agreed that the retirement decision should be confirmed but that, in future, no such decisions should be made without the involvement of the relevant committee Labour Group. It was also agreed that there should be a meeting between the Social Services Labour Group and the group officers to decide how to handle the media, the trade unions and the rest of the City Council. At the subsequent meeting of the full Labour Group, many of the same points re-emerged and a similar conclusion was reached.

This was not the end of the matter, since there were many Labour activists who worked for the Council and knew what was going on, and it wasn’t long before motions from Withington CLP were received by the City Party. The City Party officers knew that they couldn’t allow an open debate about an individual member of the Council’s staff, so it was agreed that the Group side would provide a statement for the Chair to read out at the following meeting and that Withington delegates would be asked to withdraw their motions.

Withington CLP’s motions

“1) This CLP deplores the fact that power is concentrated increasingly in the hands of a few members in the Labour Group. This is to the extent that they can determine the removal of a chief officer without the knowledge of the service committee concerned. We call on the City Party to:

  1. i) undertake a review of the democratic process within the Labour group, with particular reference to the strategy sub-committee;
  2. ii) ensure that the Policy Committee refers back to the Social Services Committee the issue of the director’s ‘early retirement’.”

“2) This CLP urges the City Council

  1. i) not to accept the application for early retirement by the Director of Social Services;
  2. ii) to censure the Chair of the Finance Committee [Frances Done] for holding a secret meeting behind closed doors on Thursday 22 October.”

The delegates did agree to withdraw their motions, but with ill-feeling, and many of the delegates felt that there were too many things going on behind the scenes that they knew nothing about and were not comfortable with.

A Left Caucus was called to try to resolve the issue of the director’s ‘sacking’. David Black pointed out that Graham Stringer shouldn’t chair the meeting since he was involved in the decision. Graham said, “OK you can chair it,” so he did. David asked Rhona Graham, as Chair of the Social Services Committee, to give a full report on the situation, before opening up the discussion. Rhona gave a very brief report and then didn’t take part in the subsequent discussion. David had the impression that she had been bounced into doing what Graham and Frances had wanted and then been put into the difficult position of having to justify it. Different opinions were expressed at the meeting, but no-one was prepared to move a motion of no confidence in the Labour Group leadership, so the decision stood. Rhona was instructed by the Left Caucus to ask the director not to rescind her request to resign, since it was felt to be in the best interests of the Council for her to go.

The rows continued for weeks and made headlines in the Manchester Evening News. Eventually, on 10 November 1987, the director wrote a letter appealing to NALGO to call off the strike action. She said that she recognised the need for her to go because she did not have the confidence of the Council leadership, but she made it clear that she had never disputed the need to make budget reductions in the department.

At the November Council meeting, the public gallery was packed by a large number of vociferous Social Services employees with placards proclaiming ‘We want Irene’ – a remarkable display of loyalty for a chief officer. The Tories tabled an amendment 7 deploring the departure of so many chief officers since 1984, expressing support for the Director of Social Services and condemning Graham Stringer and Frances Done. It was defeated by 47 to 23, with 14 Labour right-wing councillors abstaining.

There were further opposition motions expressing no confidence in the Leader of the Council and the Chair of Social Services, and demanding the reinstatement of the director. The Labour Group leadership decided to filibuster, in an attempt to delay the debate to the afternoon, when it was hoped that the demonstration would be more subdued. It had the opposite effect, the atmosphere was even more febrile in the afternoon, when the debate took place. The tension was boosted by the announcement by some Labour councillors that they would vote in favour of one of the opposition amendments. In the end, none of the opposition amendments was carried, although one came very close with 44 votes in favour and 49 against.

It has to be stated that Irene Walton behaved with the utmost restraint during this most difficult period and did not play any part in the public demonstrations or protests.

Shortly after these events both Rhona Graham and Kath Robinson departed the scene, at least temporarily – Rhona on maternity leave and Kath to hospital for an operation. Margaret Ainsworth did not feel up to the task of managing the political process with major budget cuts required and in the absence of not only the director but two of the other three members of the senior management team, who had also decided to take early retirement. So the Labour Group elected David Black as a third deputy for the committee[3] to take responsibility for political control of the budget process in social services and to try to provide some support to Margaret Ainsworth during the remaining committee meetings for the year. A senior assistant director, Hester Ormiston, was appointed as acting director, with extensive involvement and support from David Black, and the process for appointing a new director was set in train.

Council’s Elderly Persons’ Homes in a Poor State
The first issue that had to be tackled was the poor physical state of the council’s EPHs and the problem of inadequate capital resources for bringing the properties up to modern standards.

After the enactment of the 1984 Registered Homes Act, teams of inspectors from the Social Services Department and councillors from the Social Services Committee had to visit private sector homes prior to registering them. This applied not only to those for elderly people but also to those for people with a learning disability or a mental health problem. Councillors were applying fairly stringent conditions to registration in the private home sector, but many of the existing council sector homes that were built in the 1960s would not have met the registration criteria, and there were insufficient capital resources to upgrade the facilities.

It was decided in January 1988 that the four EPHs owned and managed by Manchester, but situated outside the city boundaries, would have to be closed as they didn’t meet existing standards. Then, in the summer of 1988, the first closures of homes inside the city boundaries (Cavendish and Hazelcroft) were proposed. Even though the closures were necessary in the light of the state of the buildings and the lack of resources to upgrade them, they were very difficult decisions to take. The closure of an old person’s home and the move to alternative accommodation is very traumatic for the residents and always attracts adverse press publicity.

It was also agreed in 1988, that the existing residential mental health hostels would close, and be replaced by a network of ‘supported accommodation’ – small homes with residential social workers. This was to be funded in a number of ways, including through the housing benefit system, which resulted in a massive increase in the cost to the government from about £100 million to more than £1 billion nationally.

Recruiting a New Director
Meanwhile, the process for recruiting a new director was proving problematic. Because of the number of chief officers departing from the Council under various clouds since 1984, Manchester had gained a reputation for being ‘trigger happy’ and potential chief officers were no doubt reluctant to apply. There were also a number of other vacancies for Directors of Social Services across the country, particularly in London and other cities, competing for potential applicants. David Black had to work quite hard to get out the message (through the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and other contacts) that Manchester politicians would not be spending their time looking over the shoulders of the new director.

Even so, when the appointment panel (consisting of one Liberal and seven Labour councillors) met in April 1988 to draw up a short-list, none of the applicants met the requirements and the post had to be re-advertised. Not unexpectedly, the panel again found that no candidate met the minimum requirements.

In May 1988, David Black was elected as Chair of the Social Services Committee, with Winnie Smith and Ray Whyte as deputies. His top priority was recruiting a director.

The recruitment panel was reconvened and spent some time taking stock of the situation before deciding to advertise the post for a third time but with a fixed-term contract option. The advert appeared in the press during the National Social Services Conference in Newcastle in October 1988 and this provided a good opportunity for David to bring it to the attention of potential applicants. Ironically, this was the conference where the then Health Minister, the abrasive David Mellor, launched a vicious and vehement attack on Cleveland’s director, Mike Bishop, over his handling of the Cleveland child abuse affair. This concerned 121 cases of suspected child abuse, which had been identified by paediatricians at Middlesborough hospital. Although most of these diagnoses were subsequently discredited, at the time Cleveland County Council (which has since been abolished) was pilloried for its failure to protect the victims. The official Butler-Sloss inquiry found that, although mistakes were made, the Social Services Department acted with some speed once the scale of the problem became apparent.

In November 1988, Manchester’s recruitment panel was able to agree a shortlist from a much stronger set of candidates, including several serving directors. At the first round of interviews, it decided that two candidates, including Mike Bishop, met the minimum requirements. Before the second interview, however, information about the candidates leaked out and there was a great deal of press speculation about the possible appointment of Cleveland’s Director. David Black, as chair of the panel, refused to discuss the individuals involved, or even confirm who they were, but did discuss the general problems involved in recruiting directors of Social Services. The underlying problems included the pressure from the media, particularly on child abuse, the relatively low pay for such a wide ranging responsibility and the general pressures on local authorities, arising from rate-capping and so on.

At the second round of interviews, the panel decided that Mike Bishop was the preferred candidate, but then went on to consider the Cleveland affair. The views of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and the Association of Directors of Social Services, both of which were favourable towards Mike Bishop, were relayed to the panel, as was the outcome of the Butler-Sloss inquiry, and the panel unanimously decided to appoint him. References were taken up over the weekend and a press release was issued on the Monday, 28 November 1988.

Predictably, all hell broke loose in the media for a few days. Equally predictably, there were motions of censure by opposition parties at the next Council meeting with some of the councillors using intemperate language that would have been more appropriately addressed to the perpetrators of child abuse.

There was a 14-month gap between the departure of Irene Walton and the succession of Mike Bishop, and if it had been known that the position was going to be vacant for that length of time, more thought would have been given to a temporary appointment. But there was a strong desire to appoint an experienced manager and a sense of relief when the appointment was made. Mike Bishop started in January 1989 on a five-year contract that was then extended for a further year, after which he took early retirement.

Passing on Council Owned Care Homes
Shortly after Mike Bishop had started in the role of director, a potential scandal came to light in relation to Park Hall Elderly Persons’ Home. This was in relation to a failure to achieve full care standards rather than any abuse of residents, but there was great press interest and criticism from opposition parties. The home was closed in May 1989 and an internal investigation (rather than the external inquiry demanded by opposition politicians) was carried out by an Assistant Director and the Director of Personnel, together with the Registered Homes Inspection Team. The recommendations of the investigation team included proposals about higher care standards and improved staff training in the care of residents.

The NHS and Community Care Act 1990 gave the responsibility for community care to local authorities. They were required to follow the same principles as with Compulsory Competitive Tendering (CCT) and introduce a client/contractor (purchaser and provider) split of responsibilities within the Social Services Department. The 1990 Act was originally due to be implemented in April 1991, but was delayed until April 1993. Despite this delay, the Social Services Department went ahead with developing a strategy for the care of elderly people in the city. A report was agreed by the committee in January 1990 that gave the green light to officers to consider future options, such as transfer of homes to trusts or consortia, and to set stringent standards for accommodation in the future[4]. In March 1990 another four of the Council’s homes had to be closed because they didn’t meet the standards required.

This effectively sounded the death knell for the continued existence of the Council-owned homes as the resources to implement these standards were not available. The prospect of privatising the Council’s EPHs was not welcomed by Labour councillors. But David Black, in his role as chair, had ensured that those who were likely to raise the most objections were included on the visits to EPHs and so were well aware of the poor standards in the Council’s homes. He also made it clear that any alternative provider would have to be politically acceptable to the Labour Group.

The proposal to set up a charitable trust to manage the homes reduced the resistance and eventually all councillors recognised the advantages, in that the measure would not only rescue the Council’s 32 homes from being privatised, but would also lead to revenue savings, if the cost could be picked up from income support payments rather than met directly by the Council. As a charity, the trust would also be outside the capital controls imposed by government on councils and would be able to borrow money to pay for improvements, as well as being eligible for lottery grants and other sources of funding.

In June 1990, when Brian Harrison was the Chair of the Social Services Committee, the City Party passed a resolution opposing the closure of one of the EPHs, Nuthurst in North Manchester. Brian was angry that a decision had been reached without his opinion being sought and at the following month’s meeting argued very strongly that delegates had to recognise the financial realities of the situation and that the quality of provision was paramount.

The trust, called Manchester Care, was finally set up as a charity in January 1991, with six trustees appointed by the City Solicitor in consultation with the chairs of the Policy and Resources and Social Services committees. It was decided not to appoint councillors as trustees initially (although they were later) as this would increase the chance of the scheme being rejected by the government. Mike Bishop was appointed as one of the six, plus five other community representatives with whom Brian Harrison and Graham Stringer ‘felt comfortable’ (ie they were in sympathy with the Council’s policies).

In order to ensure the residents’ entitlement to income support, they all had to agree to the transfer. Agreement also had to be reached with the trade unions – predominantly the manual workers’ unions NUPE and the GMB. This proved to be easier than it might have been with the more intransigent non-manual union NALGO.

All these issues had to be tackled with a degree of speed and at least before the end of the financial year, due to the need to make savings as soon as possible and before any legislative change by the government. In July 1991, a joint meeting of the Social Services, Finance, and Policy and Resources committees gave approval to the transfer of ten homes to Manchester Care on a 25-year lease. The employment rights of the staff transferred were protected under TUPE (transfer of undertakings) rules, which included their pension rights as continuing members of the greater Manchester Pension Scheme with the Council acting as guarantor. Arrangements were made for certain services, such as building repairs, grounds maintenance and payroll, to continue to be supplied by the Council. At this same meeting, approval was also given to the closure of another three homes and conversion of a further three to EPRUs[5].

In the following few months, resolutions opposing these closures were considered by the City Party. Brian Harrison issued a full written report in November 1991 to make delegates aware of the realities of the situation:

“Whilst the decision to close three EPHs and convert a further three into resource centres for elderly people was driven by the need to balance budgets, there was nonetheless a determination by members of the Social Services Committee that our response to the need to identify £3.8 million of savings would be within a continuing policy framework… aimed at supporting independence rather than encouraging dependency… Most residents of our homes had been admitted without any serious attempt to discuss and explore with them all other options [or] support available. Many were ambulant and physically and mentally healthy [and] admittance to an EPH was probably the most inappropriate of all options. The homes were providing social care for people with increasing health-related problems [but] our homes are NOT nursing homes and it is now acknowledged that for some of these residents, nursing home provision is more appropriate to their needs.”

This was an honest but damning indictment of the prevailing situation. In relation to the necessary budget savings, he outlined some of the options that had been put forward by the officers, but rejected by the councillors:

“Introduction of a £3 a week charge for home helps; Increase in charges for meals-on-wheels; charges for young adults with learning disabilities attending day centres; withdrawal of incentive payments for users of adult training centres; cuts in welfare rights service.”

Doing nothing was not an option, he declared:

“After meeting our target savings, our net revenue budget will still be £68.5 million. We will still be spending, per capita, much more on personal social services than any other metropolitan or county authority in the country.”

Although the rationale for the closures was accepted by councillors and City Party delegates, it was difficult to cope with the press vilification of the Council for the closures. The Manchester Evening News used emotive language such as elderly people being ‘uprooted’ and ‘evicted’ that did not reflect the reality. Brian Harrison explained that very detailed, sensitive and dignified procedures had been developed by Manchester (and replicated by many other councils) to ensure the well-being of all residents and their families.

People with Learning Disabilities and Mental Health Issues
The year after the election of the fourth Tory government in April 1992 saw the implementation of the new Community Care legislation[6]. Money was to be transferred from the Department of Social Security to local councils to pay for all admissions into residential and nursing home care, but it was clear that this would be less than the actual cost of provision. In addition, the cost of administering these payments was going to fall on councils, so there would be a further funding shortfall.

It was also evident that there were increasing numbers of people requiring Social Services care. People with learning disabilities were living longer, as were elderly people, and there were no additional resources on the horizon. Added to this difficulty in making adequate provision was the knowledge that there was to be an increase in monitoring by external Inspectors and the publication of league tables of councils’ provision – a double whammy of inability to meet increasing demand accompanied by criticism for failure to achieve expected standards.

When Martin Pagel was elected as Brian Harrison’s deputy on the Social Services Committee in May 1991, he was keen to change attitudes within the Social Services Department towards disabled people, which were frequently very patronising. The department granted substantial amounts of money to the SELNEC[7] organisation that ran workshops for disabled people. One of Martin’s concerns, shared by Brian, was that these workshops were run by able-bodied people (on very high salaries) and they provided very limited job opportunities for disabled people.

A new organisation called Breakthrough UK was established by the Council as a registered charity run by, and for, disabled people to deliver training and consultancies for Liverpool and Manchester local authorities, using money taken from the grant for the SELNEC workshops. The trade unions were opposed to this as they viewed it as privatisation, whereas Martin and Brian believed it was giving power to individuals. The plan was for the organisation to operate on a business model and be developed in stages, with staff being transferred across from the Council (under TUPE conditions). The aims of the organisation were to provide training, to promote self-employment and enterprise, and to provide support for independent advocacy. The last never actually happened, despite being agreed politically.

Ironically, if it had happened, it would have removed the conflict caused by one part of the Council acting against another. This arose because the Manchester Advice Service, which was a part of the Social Services Department, offered advice to benefit claimants that sometimes resulted in legal action being taken against the Treasurer’s Department for non-payment of Housing Benefit. Not surprisingly, it was a situation that infuriated successive chairs of the Finance Committee.

Another political decision that was taken and not implemented was in relation to direct payments to enable people to organise their own care needs. Rather than Social Services providing carers for disabled people, Brian and Martin wanted disabled people to receive the money directly and have the power to choose the services they wanted to buy (and from whom). They believed that disabled people could only live independently if they had control of their finances and some say in who provided their care. The trade unions opposed this too as a further example of privatising council services. This time, their view held sway, so, although it had been agreed politically, it wasn’t implemented.

Closing and Transferring More EPHs
In order to deal with the impending ‘double whammy’ of the Community Care legislation referred to previously, the Budget Review Working Party (BRWP) decided that a full audit of all the relevant services should be carried out by a panel of senior officers from different departments, including the Director of Social Services. It was agreed that the panel should initially make recommendations to the BRWP, followed by a formal report to the Social Services and Policy and Resources committees. The outcome of this audit was reported to the BRWP on 6 October 1992, with a total of 40 recommendations, including home closures, transferring services to the voluntary sector and bringing in charges for services that had previously been free, such as the home help service, for which Manchester was the only local authority that no longer made a charge.

Another of the recommendations was that a further seven EPHs should close and six be transferred to Manchester Care, leaving just three to meet the Council’s legal obligations to provide accomm-odation under the 1948 National Assistance Act[8]. Five of the closed homes later became EPRUs, boosting the total number of EPRUs to ten. The last building to provide residential accommodation was Whitemoss, which although it became an EPRU still provided 18 long-stay beds, as well as emergency and respite care. Around 700 employees transferred to Manchester Care in total, with a consequent staff restructuring within the Social Services Department and total savings of around £4.6 million.

More Care in Some Communities than Others
One of the unforeseen consequences of Care in the Community was the disproportionate impact it would have on certain wards in the city. It became apparent in the early 1990s that in the Crumpsall and Whalley Range wards there was a large concentration of ‘supported housing’ – houses for adults with mental health needs or learning disabilities with live-in social workers.

In relation to Crumpsall, the people who had previously been accommodated in institutions associated with North Manchester Hospital were familiar with the area and it seemed logical to settle them there. Crumpsall and Whalley Range also had large numbers of relatively inexpensive, large Victorian houses that could accommodate these groups. These properties were also considered ideal by health authorities and voluntary organisations setting up houses for recovering alcoholics and so-called ‘wet houses’ for those not yet recovering.

As a local councillor for Crumpsall and a member of the Social Services Committee, Val Edwards was approached by local residents protesting about a planning application for yet another ‘special needs’ residential home (a wet house) very close to a primary school. Val and the residents attended the planning committee to object, but because there were no planning reasons for refusal, the committee had no choice but to accept it.

In my ward, Whalley Range, I was constantly involved in battling against similar planning applications. Together with a local residents’ group and council officers, we had carried out a mapping exercise to see what different kinds of ‘special needs’ houses there were in the ward. This was no easy task, since they were set up by many different organisations – public, private and voluntary – and many of them understandably wanted to keep their anonymity for the sake of their residents’ privacy. Val Edwards carried out a similar exercise in Crumpsall, and around 1994 we persuaded Claire Nangle, as Deputy Chair of the Housing Committee, to convene a meeting of Housing, Social Services and Planning officers. When we produced our ward maps with different coloured blobs for the different types of special needs homes, Claire described it as looking like a case of the measles. We made it clear that there shouldn’t be any more applications approved and that there should be a better spread across the city, rather than this concentration in just a few wards.

It was a classic case of one hand not knowing what the other was doing. We had bail hostels near to primary schools and nurseries, and alcoholics housed near to vulnerable adults with learning disabilities and women’s refuges.

The planning officers were adamant that they couldn’t possibly determine planning applications on the basis of what sort of people might live in a property. Arnold Spencer[9] thought it was an issue for the Housing Committee rather than Planning. The Housing and Social Services officers felt that they had no influence over the private or voluntary sector organisations involved. Richard Leese, as another of the Crumpsall councillors, was keen to see a policy developed for the Council and Val Edwards managed to elicit Graham Stringer’s support for taking the issue to the full Labour Group. Of course none of the other councillors wanted to face the prospect of these homes being located in their own wards, and so there wasn’t much sympathy for our plight. However, it was agreed that the Council did need to develop a clear policy so that there would be some co-ordination across different departments and some means of influencing developers and the organisations wanting to establish new homes – in the interests of their clients as well as the host communities.

In his Labour Group report to the City Party in December 1994, Graham Stringer dealt with the issue on one of the very few occasions when he spoke on social issues:

[It is] essential that the council, acting corporately, consults with outside organisations such as health authorities, housing associations and the Housing Corporation to develop shared policies based on the need to provide care direct to people where they live… [The] situation in some parts of the city has reached crisis point. Urgent and immediate action is required… Until there is a redefined policy, the presumption must be against any more development… The Planning process is designed to deal with questions of land use and not social issues. It can, therefore, only play a part in any wider plan, developed with the other agencies to provide support for those in need. It is important, however, that the planning process does reflect the wider social concerns, and that a timetable is established for the development of policies which would allow the appropriate control of new housing schemes for people with special needs.”

Mike Bishop left the Council in 1995 and was succeeded, initially on an acting basis, by Jim Murphy, who had previously been a member of the CCT team although with a social work background. Several managers who previously worked in the department have argued that there was a lack of clear and consistent senior management throughout the 1980s and 1990s and that although Mike Bishop made a good impression initially by ‘walking the walk’, he soon restricted himself to ‘talking the talk’. Despite this, there was a reasonable continuity of senior management in the department, unlike the political leadership of the committee.

During the 13 years from 1984 to 1997, despite the need for continuity in such an important area of service provision, there were six committee chairs, with only one of them, Brian Harrison, serving their full four-year term of office. One gave up the position to become lord mayor (Kath Robinson); two left the Council through election defeat (Paul Clarke) and voluntary retirement (Rhona Graham); one decided not to re-stand (David Black); and one decided to stand down in order to concentrate on the job of Deputy Leader (Martin Pagel). (See Appendix 21A for the full list).


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Editor’s Comments

I have shortened this chapter a little by removing a section that had insufficient information to give a clear story and was not substantiated with a source of the information. I have added the sub-headings and there have been other typographical edits.


[1] Kath Robinson had tremendous empathy with the purpose of Social Services and was the type of councillor to respond helpfully to constituents’ telephone calls on a Saturday night when the vast majority of councillors wanted a break from being on constant call.

[2] There was much debate, both locally and in other authorities, about the extent to which it was desirable to include Social Services staff in neighbourhood offices. The extreme case was in Islington where maximum involvement was insisted upon by politicians. The consequences of this were still being discussed two decades later, when Margaret Hodge, as children’s minister, was heavily criticised for leaving children vulnerable during her time as leader of Islington Council in the 1980s when neighbourhood services were developed and implemented in the borough

[3] David Black wasn’t a member of the Social Services Committee at this time point, but a place was created by the withdrawal from the committee of Keith Bradley, who had become an MP in the 1987 election (and was also Rhona Graham’s partner).

[4] No more than two residents to a room; an 80/20 split of single and double rooms; no more than 40 residents in a home in the short/medium term; no more than 32 residents to a home in the longer term. These were the standards applied to private homes in order to achieve registration.

[5] The closures were Northfields EPH in New Moston, Heyhead View EPH in Wythenshawe, and Briarfields EPH in Hulme. Those converted to EPRUs were Hillside in Chorlton, Weylands in Wythenshawe, and Woodville in Crumpsall, which were added to the existing EPRUs in Minehead and Aked Close.

[6] National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990

[7] The acronym stood for South East Lancashire and North East Cheshire as these were the two county councils that originally set up the network of services, homes and workshops for disabled people.

[8] Which obliged local authorities to provide suitable accommodation for those who through infirmity, age, or any other reason were in need of care and attention not otherwise available.

[9] Arnold Spencer was Chair of Planning Committee 1984-1988, Chair of Planning and Highways Committee 1990-93 and Chair of Environmental Planning Committee 1993-95 – see Chapter 25 and Appendix 25A.

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