With permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a statement about Rotherham council.
Last August Professor Jay’s report into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham described how vulnerable children have been repeatedly failed by a council paralysed by:
- institutionalised political correctness
- blatant failures of political and officer leadership
With such serious documented failures, I told the House last September that it was clearly in the public interest to order a statutory inspection of Rotherham council.
I appointed Louise Casey to undertake a formal best value inspection of the council. Today her inspection report has been laid before the House and published.
I would like to thank Louise Casey and her inspection team for their hard work in producing this thorough report.
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.
It also confirms a complete failure of political and officer leadership in Rotherham.
Let me outline some of the reports conclusions:
poor governance is deeply seated throughout the council
there is a pervading culture of bullying, sexism, suppression and misplaced political correctness which has cemented the council’s failures
both members and officers lack the confidence to tackle difficult issues for fear of being seen as racist or upsetting community cohesion
the council is currently incapable of tackling its weaknesses, without a sustantial intervention
the council lacks political leadership
it is directionless and is not clear what kind of organisation it wants to be, and how it will get there
it is clear that the political leadership of the council is unable to hold officers to account, and there is an inability of all members to properly represent the interests of local people
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:
management is ineffective
there is no cohesive senior leadership team and no permanent chief executive
there is a poorly directed tier of middle managers, some of whom do not demonstrate that they have the skills, drive and ability necessary to turn the organisation around
there is a history of poor performance and a tolerance of failure in Children’s Services
Strategies and action plans sit on the shelf and don’t get translated into change.
In short, the report concludes:
- Rotherham council has failed its citizens
- is failing to comply with the statutory best value duty
- it needs a fresh start
As a consequence of this conclusion, and in terms of the statute, I am satisfied that the council is failing to comply with its best value duty.
That is failing in its duty to deliver quality local services for all and value for money to local taxpayers.
I will therefore need to consider exercising my powers of intervention to secure compliance with the duty.
To that end, in line with procedures laid down in the Local Government Act 1999, I am today (4 February 2015) writing to the council to ask them if they wish to make representations on Louise Casey’s report and on the intervention package I am proposing.
My proposals are designed to give the council the new start it needs and to put an immediate end to the council’s on-going service and governance failure.
To give that new start, I am seeking to make an order under the Local Government Act 2000 to move Rotherham council to holding all-out elections in 2016 and every fourth year thereafter.
The 2016 elections will be an opportunity for the people of Rotherham to renew the membership of their council, and to elect those they have confidence in.
In the immediate term I am minded to appoint commissioners who will provide new leadership, taking over the roles of the current wholly dysfunctional cabinet.
I am proposing they will therefore initially exercise all the functions currently exercised by the cabinet – that is all the council’s executive functions.
Their responsibilities will thus include children’s and young peoples’ services, and adult care services.
I am also proposing that the commissioners will exercise other functions of the council where there can be no confidence in the council’s ability to act responsibly.
Louise Casey’s report uncovered serious weaknesses in the council’s taxi licensing where sufficient steps to ensure only fit and proper persons are permitted to hold taxi licenses have not been, and are not being undertaken.
There can be no confidence in the council’s Licensing Committee.
I am thus minded that the commissioners will take control of all the council’s licensing functions.
And I am proposing that the commissioners have the functions of appointing the chief executive, chief finance officer and monitoring officer, and of nominating members to other bodies.
In exercising all these responsibilities, I expect the commissioners to have appropriate regard to any views the council’s members may have on those matters.
It is because the council is so seriously failing the people of Rotherham, and particularly some of the most vulnerable in that borough, that I am proposing to take this wholly exceptional step of putting all these responsibilities for a time in the hands of commissioners appointed and accountable to me.
My aim will be to return these responsibilities to local democratic control as rapidly as possible.
From day 1 the commissioners will have the role of considering and reporting to me what functions can be rolled back to the council, but only when they are confident the functions will be exercised properly.
And every quarter I am proposing that the commissioners review and report to me what functions then can be rolled back to ensure there is a phased roll back of functions over the duration of the intervention.
My hope and expectation is that this roll-back can soon begin and after the 2016 elections major services will be able to be returned, with the council resuming full responsibility for its range of services within 4 years.
In addition to giving the commissioners these roles of exercising the council’s functions, they will oversee and drive forward the service and governance improvements the council will be required to undertake to comply with the statutory best value duty.
To fulfil these roles, I propose to place a team of 5 commissioners who will jointly or severally exercise functions.
The team will comprise:
- a lead commissioner to provide overall leadership and direction to the intervention
- a commissioner with a “managing director” role to lead the oversight of overall service and governance improvement, driving performance
- a children’s commissioner appointed by my right honourable Friend the Education Secretary responsible for driving improvement on children’s services
- and 2 further commissioners to support the work of the Commission
Finally, I also propose to end tax-payer funded reward for failure by requiring the council to stop special responsibility allowances for cabinet members without functions while commissioners are in post.
The council now has 14 days to make representations to me on the report and on my proposed intervention package.
I shall then carefully consider any representations made and decide how to proceed.
If I decide to intervene along these lines, I will make the necessary statutory directions under the Local Government Act 1999 and appoint commissioners.
I will also make the order under the 2000 Act. Any directions I make will be without prejudice to my making further directions if required. I will update the House on my conclusions in due course.
Mr Speaker, it is with a real heavy heart that I am having to resort to such central intervention.
The coalition government is committed to strengthening local government per se and local government accountability. But the voices of the victims have to be clearly heard.
The crimes committed against children is so appalling, the council’s remedy is so utterly inadequate, that the government cannot, in good conscious, turn a blind eye.
These are exceptional circumstances that justify Whitehall’s intervention so we can make the council address its failings and prevent this ever happening again. I believe the public both in Rotherham and across the country would expect nothing less.
The intervention package I am proposing is broad and wide ranging.
It would only be justified in the most exceptional case.
Rotherham is I believe such a case, a truly rare case where the children of Rotherham have so badly been let down by those elected to serve them.
Councils across England on the whole have a good record of service and are looking after their local communities.
They are the heart of localism. This is something to protect and cherish.
The action I am proposing today is to restore good local governance to Rotherham, where all can have confidence again in their council and they can take great pride in their borough.