Not a time for more excuses

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CALLOUS alcoholic mother Amanda Hutton can consider herself fortunate that she was only jailed for 15 years for the manslaughter of her four-year-old son Hamzah Khan, who she allowed to starve to death before leaving his mummified body in a cot for two years until the corpse was discovered by an alert police recruit.

Others might have been less lenient – Judge Roger Thomas QC, passing sentence, described this neglect as “breathtakingly awful” after Bradford Crown Court heard the gruesome details of this tot’s unimaginable death, and how he had been allowed to become “invisible to society” because of the failure of social services staff – and others – to recognise Hamzah’s desperate plight.

Yet, while the jailing of 43-year-old Hutton brings criminal proceedings to a close, attention must now turn to the role of the care agencies who were involved in this tragedy – and the safeguards that need to be introduced to prevent such heartbreaking cases from occurring in the future.

It will not be straight-forward. Unlike other high-profile cases that have shocked the nation, Unison do not believe that a shortage of social services staff was a significant factor in this instance.

However it notes that its members are working with some of the “most dysfunctional people in society” and Judge Thomas highlighted the extent to which Hutton’s deviousness had prevented “various agencies” from gaining access to her son and his siblings.

Yet the very fact that access was denied should have prompted those concerned to redouble their efforts to check on Hamzah’s well-being – the point that was made by veteran MP Stephen Dorrell, the chairman of Parliament’s health select committee, when he said, quite rightly, that “a child should not be allowed to disappear without trace”.

As such, the challenge now is to use this notion to look at how social services staff, together with GPs, health visitors and others, can ensure that every child perceived to be at risk is monitored rather than simply hoping for the best.

This is not a problem that is unique to Bradford – child neglect cases have haunted local authorities across Britain for too long. The ‘lessons will be learned’ excuse has been repeated so many times, with such little discernible effect, that it is now redundant. Parliament must address this issue as a matter of an urgency following the party conference season. For, if MPs do not act, they will have to live with the consequences if another child dies needlessly.

• Flooding farce: Insurance loopholes need blocking

THE Environment Secretary could not have been more emphatic when his department signed off a landmark new deal with insurers so householders and businesses could acquire cover in flood-risk areas. “People no longer need to live in fear of being uninsurable,” said Owen Paterson.

Fast forward four months and Stephen Gilbert – a Parliamentary aide to Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey – is saying that this much-heralded deal is “nonsense” because business premises and new homes built since 2009 will be ineligible.

In many respects, it is sensible for flood plains to be exempt from this settlement – something needs to be done to stop the perverseness of new developments being approved for sites that are vlunerable to rising rivers.

Yet that will offer little comfort to people who buy new homes in good faith, only to discover that further housing development in the local area puts their home at risk of flooding in the future.

As sich, it is vital that a solution can be found which includes small businesses such as bed-and-breakfasts – the lifeblood of the economy in rural areas such as North Yorkshire – if the scheme is to be fair for all.

One final point needs to be made. Until such anomalies are resolved, it will be more difficult for Ministers to persuade local communities to not only work together to reduce the risk of flooding, but then pay for such schemes in the prevailing financial climate.

• Town’s economic future on the line

THE implications of 600 job losses in Northallerton, and the ramifications for the wider North Yorkshire rural economy, need to be placed in wider context.

In contrast to those large cities which have become accustomed to withstanding the impacting of redundancies on this scale, this process is far more challenging in countryside communities because there simply are not sufficient alternative sources of employment.

Take Northallerton which is bracing itself for the closure of the town’s prison, and branch of Defra’s Rural Payments Agency, next year.

The combined number of jobs being axed at these two sites equates to 6.9 per cent of the town’s population of 10,170 residents.

As such, it is another reminder that the Government’s growth strategy – and understandable focus on key cities like Leeds, Bradford, Sheffield, Wakefield, York and Hull – does not marginalise rural towns, and that Northallerton’s MP, Foreign Secretary William Hague, uses his political influence to make this point in the corridors of power.

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