Row over social services ‘lack of facilities’ claims

A senior councillor has accused the health minister of “playing politics” with vulnerable children’s lives after she made claims about social services.

Edwina Hart alleged some children had spent the night in a motorway cafe with a social worker due to lack of residential facilities in Swansea.

But the Liberal Democrat-led council said the claim was untrue and “would be illegal” if it had happened.

Ms Hart, AM for Gower, is standing for the Welsh Labour leadership.

Ballots for the post, which would also bring the role of First Minister after Rhodri Morgan steps down, closed at 1700 GMT on Thursday.

Ms Hart is up against fellow Labour AMs Huw Lewis and Carwyn Jones.

Ms Hart’s spokesman said claims she had contacted the press with the story “to gain advantage in that contest” were incorrect and that, if that was her aim, she could have released the information a lot sooner.

He said she stood by her claims and that the allegations about the motorway cafe and that children had been placed out of the county were made by staff of two residential homes in a meeting last Tuesday.

The spokesman added that the minister e-mailed Councillor Nick Tregoning, the council’s cabinet member for social services, on Tuesday to try to gain more information.

But after she received no reply she contacted the press.

However, Mr Tregoning insisted he had not had time to check the allegations before Ms Hart made them public.

He said he was now satisfied they were untrue and accused Ms Hart of “playing politics with children”.

‘Emergency placement’

Responding to the claims, Swansea council said: “The claim that vulnerable children in need of an emergency placement by social services have ever spent a night in a motorway cafe with a social worker is simply not true.

“It would be illegal, it has not happened and we would never contemplate doing such a thing.

“Our priority is to ensure that where vulnerable children and young people are unable to live with their families that they have a placement that is safe and suitable to their needs.

“When an emergency placement is required for a child, a social worker will first seek a placement through Foster Swansea which has dedicated emergency beds.

“If that’s not possible the next step would be to seek a placement at the children’s home at Nant y Felin, where there are two emergency beds.”

Liberal Democrat AM for South Wales West Peter Black claimed it was a “serious lapse of judgement”.

He added: “Although this is a personal statement from her as a local AM, I consider that her actions have undermined future dealings between herself, as a minister and Swansea Council.”