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New Haringey leader's daunting mission

PUBLISHED: 16:19 18 December 2008 | UPDATED: 15:43 07 September 2010

THE newly-elected leader of Haringey Council has admitted she faces a daunting task to piece together the authority in the aftermath of the Baby P tragedy. It has been a tumultuous and damaging period for the council, which led to the resignations of form

THE newly-elected leader of Haringey Council has admitted she faces a daunting task to piece together the authority in the aftermath of the Baby P tragedy.

It has been a tumultuous and damaging period for the council, which led to the resignations of former leader George Meehan and cabinet member Liz Santry and the sacking of children's services director Sharon Shoesmith.

Now Claire Kober - one of the youngest ever leaders, and first female since the 1980s - has been recruited to rebuild the under-fire council.

Speaking to the Broadway this week, she readily admitted she has been elected under "difficult circumstances".

Aged 30, and with only two years' experience as a councillor, some may question whether she is equipped for the role but Ms Kober is quick to point out that few jobs could prepare you for the role of leader of Haringey Council.

She said: "The job of leading a local authority, there is not a career path that takes you into that role. However, my life experience shows that I'm committed to delivering excellent public services to people, and helping children to have the best life chances. I strongly believe politics is the best means of advocating change."

Her career to date has been committed to improving the lives of disabled people and children. She has worked in the voluntary sector including the Leonard Cheshire Foundation, which provides support for disabled people, as policy and campaigns manager, and for the Campaign to End Child Poverty.

She was also the vice president of the National Union of Students after she attended Keele University and led the union's campaigns on social policy issues, flying up the ranks of the Labour Party along the way.

Ms Kober has pledged to drive through necessary changes in Haringey's social services and says her number one priority is safeguarding children's agenda, which has been strongly criticised in recent weeks and culminated with a damning report by Ofsted, the Healthcare Commission and the Chief Inspector of Constabulary.

"There were critical findings in the report," she said. "My priority is to ensure that the systems we have in place will safeguard children. But also that as an authority we become an exemplar of safeguarding practice."

As if to illustrate her point, she announced that Peter Lewis, currently director of children's services in Enfield had been appointed by Ed Balls, the schools minister to take on Ms Shoesmith's role.

Ms Kober said: "In Peter we have someone who is at the forefront of his field. He has experience of both social work and education and we need a strong director of children's services."

She is also working closely with Mr Balls to ensure that Haringey gets back on track - and was due to meet him this week.

She said: "I'm really clear that there is a lot of work to be done in terms of our own action plan. The serious case review carried out into Baby P's death was judged as inadequate. There will be a new serious case review at the end of January and Ofsted will be back in June.

"There was a failing that was identified and people resigned on that basis . Now I'm committed to working with members across the council to improve our service and regain people's trust," she said.


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