Austin Macauley 18 November 2014

Councils must learn from Rotherham exploitation scandal, say MPs

Local authorities across England have been urged to review their procedures in light of ‘systemic failures’ at Rotherham Council exposed by the town’s child sex abuse scandal.

Poor advice from officers and a lack of scrutiny by councillors were at the heart of weaknesses, according to a report by the communities and local government committee. It said the council’s child protection policies and plans were ‘never effectively checked’.

‘The circumstances found within Rotherham Council – policies divorced from reality, single party supremacy and a dominating personality with predominate influence – are likely to be found in other local authorities,’ it warned.

The committee also said the Jay Report into sexual exploitation in Rotherham had highlighted ‘serious flaws’ in the Ofsted inspection regime. MPs are to call the education watchdog in to face questions over its failure to protect children.

Committee chair Clive Betts said: ‘As a committee, 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.

‘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.’

MPs said it was right that senior officers and the leader at Rotherham Council left their posts following the scandal.

‘It is an important matter of public policy that senior council staff be held accountable for their actions,’ said Mr Betts.

‘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.’

Visit The MJ for further information on sexual exploitation in Rotherham.

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