Child sexual exploitation in Rotherham: some issues for local government - Communities and Local Government Committee Contents


1  Introduction

1. The publication of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham: 1997-2013 by Professor Alexis Jay OBE (the "Jay Report")[1] on 26 August 2014 provided a damning indictment of the failure of one local authority to protect children from organised sexual exploitation. We, like other MPs, were shocked not only by what the content of the Report showed had been happening in Rotherham since 1997 but by the implication that the pattern revealed could be repeated across the country. Our deep concern was shared across Parliament, and select committees—such as the Home Affairs Committee[2]—have to vigorously pursue the issues raised in the Jay Report for the areas which they scrutinise. We scrutinise local government, and Professor Jay's Report and the concerns it raises have significant implications for local government.

2. We therefore moved quickly to call before us on 10 September Martin Kimber, Chief Executive, and Joyce Thacker, Strategic Director of Children's and Young People's Services, of Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council, who were then in post. Their evidence raised a number of concerns which we considered should be put to Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, and to the Local Government Association. In addition, we sought supplementary evidence from the officers from Rotherham on a number of matters which emerged during their oral evidence. We wrote to them on the following day, 11 September,[3] and they responded quickly and constructively and we have published the correspondence.[4] Subsequently, on 13 October we took evidence from Professor Jay herself and from the new Leader of Rotherham Council, Cllr Paul Lakin, and from Cllr David Simmonds, Chairman of the Children and Young People Board, and Carolyn Downs, Chief Executive, of the Local Government Association. We thank those who gave oral evidence and responded in correspondence.

3. It is clear to us that the Government is taking the disturbing evidence revealed from Rotherham seriously and has announced several interventions, three of which have the potential for significant implications for local government:

a)  the Independent Panel Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse;

b)  the independent inspection of the compliance of Rotherham Council; and

c)  the appointment of Children's Social Care Commissioner for Rotherham, following an Ofsted inspection of the council's children's services.

INDEPENDENT PANEL INQUIRY INTO CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE

4. On 7 July 2014, the Home Secretary, Rt Hon Theresa May MP, announced the setting up of the Independent Panel Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.[5] The terms of reference of the Inquiry are widely drawn and encompass "Local Authorities including care homes and children's services".[6] It is clear to us that once this Inquiry starts work it will need time to carry out its work thoroughly and to cover its remit comprehensively, which is wider than local government. Although it may produce interim reports, it is likely that its work will not be completed until the next parliament.

INDEPENDENT INSPECTION OF THE COMPLIANCE OF ROTHERHAM COUNCIL

5. On 10 September, after the publication of the Jay Report, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government announced that he would use his powers to commission an independent inspection of the compliance of Rotherham Council in the exercise of its functions on governance, children and young people, and taxi and private hire licensing. He appointed Louise Casey CB to carry out the inspection and asked her to report by 30 November 2014.[7] Subsequently on 24 September, the Secretaries of State for Communities and Local Government and Education wrote to the Leaders of all the Principal Councils in England pointing out that Professor Jay's Report highlighted not only serious failings in the council over a number of years with regard to the safeguarding of children but "also serious failings of corporate governance, leadership, culture, and the operation of the overview and scrutiny function".[8]

6. It is our intention to call Louise Casey to give evidence after she has completed her inspection of Rotherham Council.

APPOINTMENT OF CHILDREN'S SOCIAL CARE COMMISSIONER FOR ROTHERHAM

7. On 7 October Rt Hon Nicky Morgan MP, Secretary of State for Education, wrote to Rotherham Council. She cited an advice note from Ofsted expressing "deep concerns about the emerging evidence from inspectors currently undertaking an inspection of children's social care services in Rotherham" and indicated that she was minded to appoint a Commissioner "to urgently investigate and address the failings identified by [Ofsted] and recommend immediate next steps".[9] Reports from Ofsted feature in the Jay Report and—as we explain in our Report[10]—we have concerns about its work in Rotherham. We have a number of questions about the performance and actions of Ofsted and it is our intention to call Ofsted to provide answers.

Our inquiry

8. We considered carefully whether we should launch a full-scale inquiry ourselves with a call for written evidence from all those with an interest given that the issues raised by the Jay Report are likely to have widespread and long-term implications for local government. It is clear to us, however, that further work by this Committee or its successor will be predicated on the findings and conclusions of the Independent Panel Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse on questions such as the prevalence and nature of organised child sexual exploitation. Instead, we are monitoring developments and contributing to the process of examination and, we hope, improvement. This is the context in which we have approached this Report and the oral evidence sessions we have held and plan to hold. We set out in the next chapter of this Report those matters which we consider give rise to concern and need further examination. Between now and the end of the parliament in March 2015 we may produce a further report should evidence emerge or there be significant developments affecting local government.

9. We expect that our successor committee in the next parliament would want to look carefully at the recommendations and conclusions emerging from the Independent Panel Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. The committee may wish to examine those recommendations and conclusions which apply to local government and, later in the parliament, it may wish to examine how, and to what effect, they have been implemented.


1   Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council, Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham 1997 - 2013, (the "Jay Report") Back

2   Home Affairs Committee, Child sexual exploitation and the response to localised grooming: follow-up, Sixth Report of 2014-15, HC 203 Back

3   Letter from Communities and Local Government Committee to Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, 11 September 2014 Back

4   Letters from the Chief Executive of Rotherham Council, 18 and 25 September and 24 October 2014

Letter from the Director, Schools and Lifelong Learning, Children and Young People's Services, Rotherham Council, dated 25 September 2014

Letters from the Local Government Association, 2 and 10 October 2014

Letter from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, 10 October 2014 Back

5   HC Deb, 7 July 2014, cols 23-26; see also HC Deb, 5 September 2014, cols 28-29WS and HC Deb, 21 October 2014, cols 65-66WS and the website of the Independent Panel Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. Back

6   Terms of reference, Independent Panel Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse Back

7   HC Deb, 10 September 2014, cols 37-40WS Back

8   Letter from Secretaries of State for Communities and Local Government and Education to Leaders of Principal Councils, 24 September 2014 Back

9   Letter from the Secretary of State for Education to Rotherham Council, 7 October 2014 Back

10   See para 36 below. Back


 
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Prepared 18 November 2014