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Commissioner recommends restoring Rotherham licensing powers

Licensing powers could now be restored to Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council (RMBC) after the government accepted a recommendation from the council’s commissioner, saying services have improved in this area.

Central government took over RMBC in February 2015 when it was found ‘not fit for purpose’ over its handling of endemic sexual exploitation of children in the town.

Control over areas including housing, welfare and education was restored at the beginning of this year.

In his 15 month review of the takeover, completed in May, Sir Derek Myers, the lead commissioner for the council, recommended restoring licensing powers as well. The DCLG has now written RMBC inviting it to respond to the proposals before 3 November.

Myers said the improvements included a more stringent Hackney carriage and taxi licensing policy with a ‘fit and proper person’ test and enhanced capabilities for the Advanced Licensing Board.

There was also a new organisational structure to ensure more joined-up and effective management, and better information sharing, partnership working and decision-making processes.

Commissioner Mary Ney, who would still retain an overview of services under the proposals, said: "The council has worked hard to implement a range of improvements to its licensing function and it is now appropriate to consider the return of decision making to the council. Councillors have worked with me in an advisory capacity for over 20 months and have gained considerable experience as the council implemented the new arrangements.

"Public confidence and safety is now at the heart of the council's licensing service and the new Hackney Carriage and Taxi Licensing Policy, the benefits of which we know passengers are already experiencing.

"Whilst we understand that the council is still on its improvement journey and we are focused on this and rebuilding trust and confidence in the way services are managed and delivered, this will be another significant step forward in that journey. We now await the secretary of state's final decision."

Cllr Chris Read, leader of the council, said: "This is welcome news and a real vote of confidence in the work undertaken by the council over the last 20 months, alongside commissioners, to deliver necessary improvements. We've lots more to do but - should this decision be confirmed next month - it would be another step in the right direction, for the council and for Rotherham."

In his 18 month progress report, published in August, Myers found governance changes at the council had helped deliver improvements. He added that all of the councillors elected following this year’s local elections are also “committed to improvements”. In addition, the council’s latest annual budget was found to be sustainable and prioritised children’s services.

Myers said that adult social services could be restored to the council by the end of the year.

However, he said that although children’s services had been improved, the council should carry out its own review by March 2017 to consider alternative governance arrangements for the long term, including having services run by a trust.

A recent report from Ofsted, the CQC, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and HM Inspectorate of Probation, based on inspections of five areas where child sexual exploitation was a concern, found that they had developed strategies for tackling the issue, but hadn’t always implemented them on the frontline.

(Image c. Lynne Cameron from PA Wire)

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