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05.02.15

Pickles takes control of Rotherham following scathing report

Rotherham council is to come under central government control following the resignation of its entire cabinet in the wake of an investigation that deemed the authority “not fit for purpose”.

Communities secretary Eric Pickles has announced that he will send in commissioners to take over all the council’s executive functions currently exercised by the cabinet. They will also “exercise other functions of the council where there can be no confidence in the council’s ability to act responsibly”.

Louise Casey was tasked with inspecting the council following the Jay Report, which exposed at least 1,400 children in the Rotherham area had been sexually exploited over a 16-year period, and that the council had been aware of the problem as far back as 2005.

Casey’s investigation, released yesterday, revealed a culture of bullying, sexism, suppression and “misplaced political correctness" at the council. She also found the authority to be in denial about what had happened – 70% of current Rotherham councillors, including cabinet members, dispute Jay’s findings. One told Casey’s team: “I would challenge lots of the Jay report, we feel bruised by it. Where is our right of reply? Who is fighting our corner? People are rolling over and just accepting [it].”

She wrote in the report: “RMBC demonstrates a resolute denial of what has happened in the borough. This took several forms – notable in their recurrence – including dismissal of Professor Jay’s findings, denial of knowledge of the ‘scale and scope’ of CSE, blaming others, and denial that CSE remains a serious problem in present day Rotherham.”

In a statement to Parliament, Pickles said: “This report presents a disturbing picture of a council failing in its duty to protect vulnerable children and young people from harm.

“It reveals the council’s failures – both past and present – to accept, understand and combat the crimes of child sexual exploitation.

“It concludes this culture of denial is intrinsic and has resulted in a lack of support for victims and insufficient action against known perpetrators.”

He continued: “Some councillors have not lived up to the high standards expected of those in public life or their positions of responsibility. For example the council goes to lengths to cover up and silence whistle-blowers.

“It has created an unhealthy climate where people fear to speak out because they have seen the consequences of doing so.”

The local government secretary is also making an order under the Local Government Act to have the council hold all-out elections in 2016 as a chance to refresh the authority and its cabinet. The order will see the council continue to hold all-out elections every four years.

The team Pickles plans to send will comprise of five commissioners. A lead commissioner to provide overall leadership and direction of the intervention, a “managing director” to lead oversight and governance improvement, a children’s commissioner appointed by the education secretary to take over children’s services and two further commissioners to work in other support roles.

RMBC has 14 days to respond to the Casey report before the commissioners will be sent in.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission is already looking into CSE policing in Rotherham. A spokesman said that the watchdog is currently investigating 10 officers and has received 20 further complaints.

The National Crime Agency has also confirmed it will be examining “a number of potentially criminal matters identified during a recent inspection of Rotherham metropolitan borough council”.

Tendering their resignation on Wednesday, the council cabinet said in a statement: “[Casey] clearly has no confidence in the current political leadership of Rotherham borough council.

“As a cabinet, whatever the details, as the political leadership of the council we must take responsibility. We therefore announce our intention to resign our positions as soon as transitional arrangements can be put in place.”

The leader of the council, Cllr Paul Lakin, resigned with immediate effect. He is described in the report as “a decent, committed and hardworking councillor” who was poorly served by his officers. But Casey is critical of his tenure as lead member for children’s services from 2010 to 2014, she said “he could, and should have done more, sooner” about CSE in Rotherham.

In a statement the council said: “Cllr Paul Lakin has confirmed his resignation as leader of Rotherham borough council with immediate effect. He will also stand down as local councillor for Rotherham’s Valley Ward.”

(Image source: PA Wire)

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