Response to Motion 3 – Focus on the children of Fife not the Trump administration

Council will refrain from grandstanding on international issues outwith its remit or power in order to better focus on addressing the comparative shortfalls in care and education for Fife’s children and young people, for which it bears direct responsibility.

Motion 3

Proposed by

Council condemns the actions of the Trump Administration in the United States in separating migrant children from their families and holding them in caged camps. Council believes this violates basic human rights and that it will have consequential impacts across the world. Council should add its voice to those protesting against these actions and resolves to inform the UK and Scottish Governments that, in light of these actions, President Trump should not be invited to visit the UK.

Proposed by Councillor David Ross. Seconded by Councillor Judy Hamilton

Provost, Councillors

This motion reminds me of the kind of thing the student union at my college – when I was at university over 30 years ago – used to propose. Idealistic and well-meaning perhaps, but utterly pointless – which just goes to show virtue-signalling existed long before the internet.

On the other hand such motions showed we knew and cared about politics beyond the things that did properly concern the student union like the next student bop.

But this is Fife Council, not a student union, we or at least some of are much older now and the people who elected us and whose taxes pay us rightly expect us to attend to the matters in Fife for which this Council is responsible.

We are manifestly not responsible for the treatment of refugee children in America, repellant as it may be. We can do absolutely nothing about it. Nor can Fife Council do anything effective about President Trump’s visit to the UK – thank God, we might add.

Donald Trump is, after all, the democratically elected President of our closest ally, the United States, which sends a significant number of tourists and students to north-east Fife, and without whom Fife’s economy and Fife Council’s finances would be in a much worse state than they already are. International relations are the responsibility of the UK government, not Fife Council.

One of the things, however, we are responsible for is the plight of children in Fife and that’s something we can do something about.

Only yesterday Fife’s missing children made the front page of the Courier – of the 1000s of children who are reported missing in Fife each year, 708 investigations last year related to looked after children, with 530 missing from a young person’s residential unit where Fife Council is directly responsible – an almost 20% rise on the number of missing young people from residential units on the figure for 2016-17.

These shocking statistics were picked up by the proposer and seconder’s esteemed colleague Kezia Dugdale via a Freedom of Information request. She was not grandstanding in a self-indulgent throwback to her student days, but drawing attention to a horrific problem on our doorsteps, in the homes we run.

We know such runaway looked after children are extremely vulnerable – they are at risk of substance abuse and physical and sexual abuse. We know from the fate of a 17-year old runaway who was supposedly in care in Fife, from what happened to Libbi Toledo in Kirkcaldy in September last year that such children, our children, can end up dead.

The Courier story into these missing children in care carried no comment from the leaders of Fife Council – there wasn’t a peep out of them – , or indeed out of anyone else from Fife Council, and I have no idea what Fife Council is doing about this problem. That’s what I, and I am sure people in Fife, want to hear about from Councillors Ross and Hamilton.

While they are focussing on young people in Fife, they might also like to look at the state of education which effects all of us, directly or indirectly. It is a lot less than glorious. Indeed the Best Value Assurance Report 2018 is a good deal less rosy than the chief executive’s report in Agenda Item 9 might have lead you to believe.

The actual report from Audit Scotland is quite explicit. The Local Government Benchmarking Framework (LGBF) allows a council to compare itself against the Scottish average, and Audit Scotland picked out Fife Council’s performance with regard to how pupils from our most deprived areas are doing, and rates of teacher absence, as being worse than the Scottish average and in continuing decline. Indeed Audit Scotland point out that education and social work in Fife have the most indicators that are below the Scottish average, with 13 out of 22 in Education failing to come up to scratch.

I note that the Council report on all this contained no time scales and no plans for how the administration intends to tackle these shortcomings in the care and education of our children.

We know we have got falling numbers of teachers in Fife, worsening pupil-teacher ratios, growing numbers of children with additional support needs not getting the attention they need, a growing problem with children’s mental health and grotesquely long waiting lists.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that Cllrs Ross and Hamilton would prefer to focus on sensational stories about caged children in America than talk about these problems which are complex and hard to address, but we need a much more honest and sustained focus on our problems at home from our council leaders if Fife children are going to stop falling through the cracks of our care, health and education systems.

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