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18.11.14

Circumstances that led to Rotherham child abuse exist in other councils

The circumstances found within Rotherham council that allowed over 1,400 children in the area to be sexually abused over 16 years are likely to be found in other local authorities, an inquiry from the Communities and Local Government Committee has found.

The report warns that the circumstances found within Rotherham MBC, such as “policies divorced from reality, single party supremacy and a dominating personality with predominate influence”, are likely to be found in other councils. The Committee is urging all local authorities to ensure scrutiny arrangements are separate from executive functions and that there is effective challenge when there is evidence of serious potential problems.

Clive Betts MP, chair of the Committee, said: “We heard alarming evidence that the organised child sexual exploitation at Rotherham is prevalent across England. Rotherham is not an outlier. It’s important to note that it was the press which stimulated action in Rotherham, not the Council’s own system of challenge or scrutiny, nor external inspections. It’s vital local authorities across the country now ensure their scrutiny, governance, and leadership is fit and ready to identify and combat child sexual exploitation in their communities.”

He added: “It is an important matter of public policy that senior council staff be held accountable for their actions. Arrangements should be put in place to bring to account not just council officers still in post but those who have moved on from an authority before serious questions about their performance emerge.”

The committee is also critical of Ofsted and intends to call it to face questions over “failing to protect children in Rotherham”. The report also highlights “serious flaws” in the Ofsted inspection regime.

“Serious questions also need to be asked of Ofsted. Repeated Ofsted inspections in Rotherham failed to lift the lid on the Council’s shameful inability to tackle child sexual exploitation. As a Committee, we will want to question Ofsted about their inspection regime and ask why their inspections were so ineffective in Rotherham,” said Betts.

In response to the report an Ofsted spokesperson said: “Ofsted welcomes the opportunity to give evidence to the Committee. In common with a number of organisations, we accept that past inspections may not have given child sexual exploitation the forensic focus it needed and deserved.  

“That’s why last year we introduced a new and much more rigorous inspection framework for inspecting children’s services, which places a stronger emphasis on the issue. Inspectors now look closely at the experiences of children, focusing sharply on whether the risks of sexual exploitation are understood and acted upon by frontline agencies.

“This week we will be publishing the first in-depth nationwide survey into local authority practice and responses to child sexual exploitation.”

The inquiry was sparked by Professor Alexis Jay’s study revealed that at least 1,400 children in the Rotherham area had been sexually exploited over a 16-year period. She also concluded that the local authority knew as far back as 2005 of sexual exploitation being committed on a wide scale – mostly by Asian men – yet failed to act.

When the report was released at the end of August it caused a huge outcry, a number of inquiries and a string of resignations, including the council leader, chief executive, head of children’s services and police and crime commissioner.

(Image: c. Lynne Cameron/PA Wire) 

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