by Tom Edwards
A CHAOTIC row over Worcestershire's failing children's services led to Labour councillors staging a bizarre walkout.
During extraordinary scenes at Worcestershire County Council yesterday, the party also tried to table a motion of 'no confidence' in chief executive Clare Marchant during an ill-tempered, stand-up dispute.
An Ofsted inspection has graded its children's services as 'inadequate' in a highly-damaging verdict which said young people are being left 'at risk'.
The Labour group tabled a motion at a full council meeting calling for the Secretary of State to intervene, calling the failures "a scandal" and saying a Government-led rescue plan should be launched.
But at one point during the debate Ms Marchant attempted to intervene into the row between the Conservatives and Labour, saying she was prepared to offer some "facts" to inform both sides of the chamber.
It led to a mass Labour walkout, with a tearful Ms Marchant then making an emotional plea for party politics to be kept out of the debate.
Almost breaking down, she said: "It's very clear in the Ofsted report that this shouldn't resort to party politics - the vulnerable children of Worcestershire deserve more."
Moments beforehand Tory Councillor Tony Miller, the council's chairman, had given her permission to speak before Labour tried to stop it, saying he would be unwise to interject her input into a debate on a politically-charged motion.
After returning from their walkout, Councillor Peter McDonald, Labour group leader, said: "Mr chairman, you put myself, and my whole group into a position where we could have had interactions with our chief executive - we are not here to attack officers."
After blaming Cllr Miller he then said Ms Marchant had "crossed the line" and called for a vote of no confidence in her, which was blocked by legal chief Simon Mallinson on the grounds it was too late into the debate.
During furious scenes Conservative politicians led cries of "shame" against the Labour tactic, with Councillor Marc Bayliss calling for Cllr McDonald to be sanctioned.
"For four years, we've suffered this type of abuse at the hands of the member opposite, today he has once again crossed the line."
Several councillors once again apologised for the scathing Ofsted report, but the motion to refer the service to the Secretary of State was voted down.
Lib Dem Cllr Fran Oborski said: "To ask the Secretary of State to intervene would be a kick in the teeth for the senior leadership team.
"To quote even the Ofsted report they are turning it around, albeit not quickly enough."
Cllr Bayliss, the cabinet member for children and families, said he took his "share of the responsibility" for the Ofsted grading but said even the inspectors had seen "green shoots" and were "very clear" about the need for strong, stable leadership.
Labour Councillor Paul Denham, Labour's spokesman for children, called the service's problems "nothing short of a scandal".