High Peak MP Ruth George has hit back after Conservatives accused her of spreading ‘fake news’ in Parliament.
Councillor Alex Dale, cabinet member for children’s services at Tory-led Derbyshire County Council (DCC), claimed Mrs George made ‘entirely false statements’ during education questions in the House of Commons shortly before Christmas.
He said the number of children in the council’s care had risen from 633 in December 2013 to 766 today – an increase of just over 20 per cent rather than the 50 per cent reported by Labour politician Mrs George.
He added that Mrs George also stated the council would make 80 social workers redundant.
“This could not be further from the truth,” Coun Dale said in a letter to Mrs George which has been seen by the Buxton Advertiser.
“Under the Conservatives, DCC has put an extra £5.3million into this year’s budget to significantly increase the number of children’s social workers that we employ.
“This is part of a package of measures, totalling £18m, that we have put in place during the current financial year to help deal with some of the pressures children’s services are facing.
“This means that the department’s budget is significantly better off than it was when your Labour colleagues left office in 2017.
“All of this is readily available information.”
He added: “I cannot abide the entirely false statements you made in relation to the rise in the numbers of children in our care over the last five years and purported social worker redundancies.
“I am concerned that you have placed entirely false information about DCC on the parliamentary record.
“In the interests of fairness and accuracy, I invite you to publicly retract the false claims which you have made.”
Coun Barry Lewis, leader of DCC, added: “This is the worst kind of fake news from an MP who really should know better.
“With counting skills like this, one has to wonder whether she went to the same school as Diane Abbott.
“We look forward to Ruth doing the right thing and publicly retracting these completely false statements.”
In response, Mrs George told the Buxton Advertiser: “I am very concerned by DCC’s proposal to cut £3.5m from their budget for Early Help services that support families who are struggling and help prevent children from being taken into care. These proposals are clearly set out in the cabinet’s paper and were re-iterated at the county council’s recent briefing for interested parties at which it was estimated by council officers that the cuts would involve 80 to 90 posts.
“I wrote to the council about this, asking them to clarify their proposals and to re-think them in light of the increasing numbers of children in care, who have risen by nine per cent in just nine months, and children on Child Protection Orders, who have risen by over a quarter in two years. However, they have not replied and are refusing to meet with me to discuss my concerns.
“The council is expecting schools to provide Early Help services to families and many local schools are extremely concerned, especially those who have lots of children affected.
“The Secretary of State for Education stated in Parliament the importance of Early Help services which prompted me to raise Derbyshire’s proposed cuts. I am sorry if I quoted the rise in children in care incorrectly, but the fact is that the numbers are rising sharply at a time when the council is looking to make huge cuts to their vital Early Help service.
“Rather than seek to make political points, I think most local people would prefer DCC’s leaders to be working with all interested parties to better fund and support families and children who are at risk of harm.”
DCC expects to make cuts of up to £18.5million in 2019-20 and increase council tax by either 3.99 per cent or 4.99 per cent.