Fresh Row Ignited Over Disabled Comments

The Lead for Childrens Services has apologised again for the comments he made about disabled children three years ago to parents

It comes just day's after Wadebridge councillor Collin Brewer was forced to quit for saying disabled children should be "put down."

Now, Neil Burden's been forced to explain his comments made to parents back in 2010 - he says he meant no malice but that his comment was clumsy

Neil Burden made a comment in 2010 to Sandra Ward who was at that time the Chair of the Parent Carer Council for Cornwall, shortly after he was appointed as the lead member for Children's Services. Neil Burden wrote to Sandra apologising for the remarks at the time but the incident has resurfaced, forcing Mr Burden to issue a statement to explain what happened and the actions he took at the time to apologise for any offence he had caused.

Statement from Neil Burden

''The comments I made to Sandra concerned medical errors that are sometimes the cause of disability in children. There was no malice in the comments but they were clumsy and didn't make the point I intended. I wrote to her immediately after the incident to apologise unreservedly for my inappropriate words and I am very grateful that she recently acknowledged the work and support I have put in on behalf of disabled children in the last three years. I recognise that I expressed the point I was trying to make very badly and caused offence. I learnt an important lesson on that day and hope that my record of support for services to children with disabilities has shown that.

This incident occurred shortly after I was appointed as the Lead Member for Children's Services - a role which I am very proud to have and which I take very seriously. I am totally committed to doing everything I can within the resources available to us as a Council to improve the lives of all children and families in Cornwall. Getting it right for disabled children and children with special educational needs is one of my key priorities. I have learnt so much about the issues faced by children with disabilities and their parents and carers since my early days as lead member. I am grateful to those children and parents and staff that have helped me to gain a better understanding through my visits to the short breaks units, and area resource bases, as well as our special schools such as Doubletrees, St Blazey, Nancealverne, and Kernow, and through attending events and summer specials.

Whilst there is always more to do, I am proud of the work which has been done in Cornwall to support disabled children and families. We were the seventh local authority in the country to sign up to the Every Disabled Child Matters Charter and I have continued to ensure that we sign this to demonstrate our commitment to its ethos and principles.

We have improved short break provision and accessible childcare for disabled children in Cornwall through the Aiming Higher programme; a programme which I have wholeheartedly supported. Indeed this year we will hold our sixth annual Aiming Higher conference which will see young disabled people present their views of service developments. Although the Aiming Higher funding is no longer ring fenced, unlike many other local authorities we have managed to maintain our commitment to providing services for disabled children over the last 3 years. As a result there has been a 55% increase in direct payments for disabled children and their families last year and 850 disabled children and young people now receive short breaks.

Our improving track record for providing high quality services for disabled children and those with special education needs also led us to being chosen as one of 20 Pathfinders to lead in the development of Education, Health and Social care plans, for disabled children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities. This work is continuing and I am working closely with a range of colleagues to ensure that we put the needs of disabled children and their families at the heart of what we do.

Children's Services Director Trevor Doughty has a very positive working relationship with Neil Burden. Neil is highly committed and takes his responsibilities as the lead Member for children's services very seriously. I see him as a fearless advocate for children, young people and families in Cornwall and is always willing to go the extra mile to fight their corner. Over the past three years he has attended every event which has been held for disabled children and their families and tries very hard to encourage other Members to follow his example.

Neil Burden's work to support children and families in Cornwall has also been praised by Council Leader Jim Currie who said; ''Neil is the most committed and hard working Member of the Cabinet. He works tirelessly to improve the quality of the services we provide for children and families in Cornwall and to ensure that their needs are understood and taken into account in every decision we make.''