Child sexual exploitation in Rotherham: Ofsted and further government issues - Communities and Local Government Committee Contents

3  The Casey Report


61. We took evidence on 23 February from Louise Casey on her Report into Rotherham Council, which was published on 4 February. Contrasting Louise Casey's approach with that of Ofsted we concluded that her Report not only got under the skin of the authority but had a directness which could not be misconstrued. For example, her handling of the question of race, a sensitive and complex issue, was both penetrating and instructive.

Rotherham's state of denial

62. The starting point has to be that, even in the face of the evidence in the Jay Report, Rotherham Council was in a state of denial about child sexual exploitation. The Casey Report found that Rotherham:

    denied that there had been a problem, or if there had been, that it was as big as was said. If there was a problem they certainly were not told¯it was someone else's job. They were no worse than anyone else. They had won awards. The media were out to get them. [...]

    When Inspectors commenced work in Rotherham we were struck by the overwhelming denial of what Professor Jay set out in her report. This attitude was so prevalent that we had to go back through many of the aspects of her work in order to satisfy ourselves that the Council had no grounds upon which further action could be delayed. [...]

    When faced with the solid findings contained in the report it had itself commissioned by Professor Jay, [Rotherham] did not accept them. And without accepting what happened and its role in it, it will be unable to move on and change. [113]

63. On the day that the Casey report was published Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, announced that he was considering exercising his powers of intervention to appoint commissioners to run the executive functions of Rotherham Council.[114] Subsequently, on 26 February he appointed five commissioners.[115]

64. In our view, faced with the denial of the evidence in the Jay Report and the findings in the Casey Report we cannot see that there was any reasonable prospect of Rotherham itself putting its own house in order. We conclude that the Secretary of State was justified in appointing commissioners to take over the executive functions of Rotherham Council.

The Improvement Board

65. The appointment of commissioners leaves in limbo the Improvement Board jointly established, following the publication of the Jay Report in September 2014, by Rotherham Council and the Local Government Association (LGA). The LGA explained that the Improvement Board was part of the "sector-led response to Rotherham's improvement and recovery process". It had been assembled rapidly and included a number of leading figures that had worked with both the Department for Communities and Local Government and the LGA on a range of Government interventions and improvement structures in other councils. The Board was "intended to offer immediate support and was commissioned on the understanding that the Secretary of State may in the future be minded to appoint commissioners".[116

66. The Board was advisory with executive authority in the hands of the council in Rotherham. When she gave evidence to us Louise Casey said the administration led by Cllr Lakin had made mistakes and that Rotherham was "a local authority at points that is simply inept, including during the era that Paul Lakin was responsible for as the leader".[117] She reiterated that Rotherham had "a culture where there was bullying and sexist behaviour that intimidated people and got in the way" and this had to be put "alongside the race issue".[118] She added that having a "group of people coming in once every few weeks and having a meeting and looking at things" was "not a match for the types of problems that are in Rotherham [but] an improvement board might be something that is helpful now, when there is a set of commissioners in place".[119]

67. We conclude that, faced with an ineffective council administration and an ingrained culture of denial and bullying and sexist and intimidating behaviour, the Improvement Board operating in an advisory role would have had an uphill, if not impossible, struggle to facilitate any significant and timely improvement at Rotherham.


68. When we asked Louise Casey about the timetable for the return to local democratic control, she considered that it had to be "done properly but speedily".[120] She was also sure that there were "some councillors in Rotherham—in the party that is in power currently—who can do a very good job."[121] The Secretary of State said that his intention was that Rotherham would move back to democratic control and that he wanted a "review every three months and, at each month, I want to know what services can be handed back, what services are ready for handing back, which services have started to hand back".[122] He explained:

    It will be the commissioners' job to start that process of rolling back. I expect to see the major functions, particularly childcare, start the process in 2016, but I would anticipate some of the other functions [...] coming back much quicker, because I would be a lot happier to see full democratic control of services there. It will be part of the commissioners' duty to offer confidence to the staff—it is about rebuilding morale, rebuilding a spirit within Rotherham—and also I am particularly keen that officials, alongside the Local Government Association, look in terms of building some sustainability within members of the council.[123]

69. We consider that the Government's intervention in Rotherham must have a definite end point and strategy for returning the authority to democratic control. We welcome the Secretary of State's assurance that the services which can be passed back to local council control will be reviewed regularly.


70. The LGA pointed out that the Secretary of State's letter of February 4 to Rotherham stated that he proposed to "direct the authority to maintain such improvement panel as the commissioners may agree [and] the role of the panel, with a membership accordingly". The LGA said that the final decision on the nature, scope and membership of any Improvement Panel or Board was therefore a matter for the commissioners but that the "LGA and the Council would hope to ensure as much continuity as possible in the work that the Rotherham Improvement Board has already informed and supported". It added:

    More importantly, whether or not there is an Improvement Board, the LGA will be on hand offering support for Rotherham. We can provide unique support in the area of member development and, through our pool of experienced member peers, support to help the council rebuild the political leadership that is needed. The forthcoming elections are likely to lead to a significant turnover of councillors and, with the additional factor that councillors will no longer have any executive powers, it is likely to mean that the challenges around political engagement and leadership are going to require a great deal of support.[124]

71. We consider that the Improvement Board, which has been in place and operating since September 2014, has built up knowledge and expertise which should be of benefit in ensuring a smooth and effective return to local democratic control in Rotherham. We recommend that the commissioners now in place in Rotherham consider using the Improvement Board to facilitate this process.

72. Ms Casey has made the offer to re-inspect Rotherham.[125] We recommend to the Government that as part of the process of returning Rotherham to full democratic control Louise Casey undertake a further inspection to establish that children's services at Rotherham are operating satisfactorily.

The conduct of former council officers

73. In our report on Rotherham in November 2014 we had concerns that there should be equitable arrangements in place to ensure the accountability of those senior staff with responsibility for the effective operation of a local authority, where, after their departure from the authority, serious concerns have arisen about their conduct.[126] We noted with unease that the Casey Report "concluded that whilst the Council has followed its own procedures, these have not always ensured that it has taken, and continues to take, appropriate action" and that "that no-one has been held to account for the serious failures Professor Jay identified".[127] We asked Louise Casey to expand on the findings and she said:

    We did look at their HR processes and [...] we found them failing or not fit for purpose [...] Where we did find evidence of senior culpability, we did name those senior councillors and we identified those staff in the report whether they work there now or not, and they are identifiable in the report. The [...] Local Government Association are very supportive, as I am, of the review of social workers in the area, which, in fairness, commenced before we arrived. The local authority did that. Secondly, the employers of all staff that used to work in Rotherham who are now working in other local authorities or public services around the country need to take a look at those individuals and satisfy themselves that they should be doing what they are doing, and I know a number of local authorities are doing that. In a way, our job was to establish whether this place was fit for purpose in terms of HR. The answer to that question is "no". It becomes a matter for others, in some ways, to hold individuals they are still employing to account.[128]

74. We welcome the action taken by Rotherham Council to start examination of the conduct of present and past employees, both those within a profession subject to a regulating body, such as the Health and Care Professions Council, and those who are not. The process now needs to be completed by the commissioners and, if necessary, by those local authorities for whom past senior employees from Rotherham now work.

75. As we have noted in chapter 1, the Government also announced proposals to extend the crime of "wilful neglect" to cover children's social care and education. We have not seen the detailed proposals. If Parliament does extend "wilful neglect" to cover children's social care we conclude that if any officer or councillor is found guilty of such an offence that should be automatic grounds for dismissal or disqualification.

Scrutiny within local government

76. In our earlier report we had concerns about the ineffectiveness of scrutiny at Rotherham. What we heard from Louise Casey heightened our worries:

    the calibre and capability of councillors was very mixed and that when you have people in cabinet positions or key roles like chairs of scrutiny, they have to be very good at what they are doing and very skilled, particularly in an environment where you are standing up against a big majority that may not want to listen to you.[129]

The Casey Report provided more details on the weaknesses at Rotherham:

    Rotherham's reaction to this scrutiny is defensive. [It] is unable to look at itself critically and can put the reputation of Rotherham above actual services.[130]

    Inspectors saw regular reports to the Cabinet and Scrutiny committees, but not the effective challenge we would expect from elected Members. The notion of challenge has been misunderstood and misinterpreted as bullish questioning. [131]

    The fact that Members' services are provided informally and are in the gift of each director leaves the Member position weak and further discourages effective day to day challenge. Clearly, if scrutiny is unwelcome and only funded at the behest of those being scrutinised, it is unlikely to be effective.[132]

    Senior officers described a difficult relationship with overview and scrutiny, a lack of detailed information to back benchers, and an in-built self-regulation of the process. Senior Members admitted that Cabinet has been unprepared to release information to scrutiny. At one point there was an instruction¯lasting five months¯that no information could be given to scrutiny without the agreement of the Lead Member.[133]

    Inspectors concluded that overview and scrutiny had been deliberately weakened and under-valued.[134]

77. The Jay and Casey Reports reveal a deeply concerning failure to scrutinise children's services in Rotherham. We recommend that local democratic control cannot be restored in Rotherham without an effective system of scrutiny in place.

78. We conclude that the Jay and Casey Reports and the PwC report on Tower Hamlets,[135] have raised for us disturbing questions about the effectiveness, capacity and function of local government scrutiny, which our successor committee in the next parliament may wish to examine.


79. In our earlier report we recommended that the effectiveness of Rotherham Council's policy on whistle-blowers needed to be tested.[136] Louise Casey did and the results were deplorable:

    As I put in the report about whistle-blowers more generally, when they came forward to talk to us, many of them said, "I would never do that again. It was the worst experience of my life". People got very upset; they felt that they were punished very harshly for being whistle-blowers.[137]

80. We conclude that the experience of whistle-blowers at Rotherham was the antithesis of what a good whistle-blowers policy should be.

South Yorkshire Police  

81. During this inquiry the responsibility and role of the police has hung like shadow over our work on child sexual exploitation in Rotherham. We asked Louise Casey about the position of the police. She said that South Yorkshire Police needed to look at the failure to the victims in Rotherham. She added that:

    The interesting thing about Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council is they had no choice but to be inspected. They have to pay for their own inspection. Every member of staff that we asked to see had to see us or else we would infer something negative from that. We could look at any document that we wanted to look at. We left no stone unturned. [...] In my view, that same scrutiny has not happened to South Yorkshire Police.[138] [...] The police have to step up and accept the same level of responsibility to those victims and those perpetrators as the local authority.[139]

Ms Casey was clear that such a review should take place.[140] She was also clear that the perpetrators had to be apprehended and taken to court.[141] We understand that South Yorkshire has been, and is, subject to a number of reviews,[142] but we see the case for a best value inspection along the lines of that conducted by Ms Casey.

82. In our view South Yorkshire Police would benefit from an inspection into its handling of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham along the lines of that conducted by Louise Casey. It would ensure that the Police are fully held to account.

113   Casey Report, pp 5 and 19 Back

114   HC Deb, 4 February 2015, cols 293-95 Back

115   HC Deb, 26 February 2015, cols 17-19WS Back

116   Local Government Association (JRR 002) para 1 Back

117   Q437 Back

118   As above Back

119   Q450 Back

120   Q438 Back

121   Q454 Back

122   Communities and Local Government Committee, Oral Evidence, 24 February 2015, HC 878, Q167 Back

123   Communities and Local Government Committee, Oral Evidence, 24 February 2015, HC 878, Q166 Back

124   Local Government Association (JRR 002) para 2 Back

125   Qq438-439 Back

126   Communities and Local Government Committee, Third Report of Session 2014-15, Child sexual exploitation in Rotherham: some issues for local government, HC 648, para 28 Back

127   Casey Report, pp 130-31 Back

128   Q455 Back

129   Q470 Back

130   Casey Report, p 24 Back

131   Casey Report, p 65 Back

132   Casey Report, p 77 Back

133   Casey Report, p 76 Back

134   Casey Report, p 76 Back

135   PwC, Best Value Inspection of London Borough of Tower Hamlets Report, 16 October 2014  Back

136   Communities and Local Government Committee, Third Report of Session 2014-15, Child sexual exploitation in Rotherham: some issues for local government, HC 648, para 24 Back

137   Q472; see also Casey Report, p 134 and ff. Back

138   Q458 Back

139   Q459 Back

140   Q460 Back

141   Q485 Back

142   Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC), Inspectorate of Police South Yorkshire Police's Response to Child Sexual Exploitation, Findings of an inspection commissioned by the Police and Crime Commissioner, 2013; HMIC, National Child Protection Inspections- South Yorkshire Police 12 - 22 May 2014, September 2014; Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), "IPCC announces investigation into South Yorkshire Police handling of Rotherham CSE matters", 18 November 2014; National Crime Agency (NCA), "NCA begins two-stage investigation into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham" 18 December 2014; NCA, "NCA to investigate matters arising from Rotherham Council inspection", 4 February 2015  Back

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Prepared 17 March 2015