A sackable offence

As anyone with a smidgeon of management experience will tell you, getting rid of staff you don’t like is a tricky business in which you ignore legal procedures at your peril. That is, unless you are a bully, or are incompetent, or unless you are Ed Balls, the former Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families. When Mr Balls announced the sacking of Haringey’s director of children’s services in a televised press conference he was flouting the employment law that every employer in this country is obliged to follow. By publicly scapegoating Sharon Shoesmith he cleverly deflected media criticism away from his own department, and focused all the blame for the death of Baby P on her. The Court of Appeal has now ruled that he broke the law and made her a public sacrifice. Whether she deserved to be sacked is beside the point. Generations of our forbears have campaigned for the right of workers not to be dismissed at the whim of an employer. If you want to sack someone you issue a series of warnings, lay out the evidence against them, and give them opportunities to put their defence and to appeal. And unless you are a complete bastard you don’t announce it at a press conference before you have informed the employee. Mr Balls ignored all of this and joined in the media hounding of a professional woman struggling to be effective in complex and difficult circumstances. It was dispiriting to hear John Humphrys continue this relentless interrogation of Ms Shoesmith on Saturday’s Today programme and to learn that the current Education Secretary Michael Gove is to appeal against the decision. Why is no-one putting pressure on Ed Balls? He ran a government department that must bear some responsibility for not helping local authorities protect children from bullying parents. He sacked someone unlawfully. Through his recklessness he incurred a loss to the public purse, in legal costs and compensation, of well over £1million. Now that’s what I call a sackable offence. – GARETH WEEKES, Deep South Media Ltd.