Last year an investigation by Professor Alexis Jay concluded that “at least” 1,400 children were subjected to sexual exploitation in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013.
In large measure that was a reflection of the terrible failings of the local council.
A further inquiry was then established to check that these problems had been dealt with. Louise Casey, who runs the Troubled Families programme, was sent in with a team to investigate. Her report presents a disturbing picture of a council failing in its duties to protect vulnerable children and young people from harm.
“Terrible things happened in Rotherham and on a significant scale. Children were sexually exploited by men who came largely from the Pakistani Heritage Community. Not enough was done to acknowledge this, to stop it happening, to protect children, to support victims and to apprehend perpetrators.
“Upon arriving in Rotherham, these I thought were the uncontested facts. My job was to conduct an inspection and decide whether the Council was now fit for purpose.
“However this was not the situation I encountered when I reached Rotherham. Instead, I found a Council in denial. They 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.”
Eric Pickles, the Communities and Local Government Secretary, has responded by deciding to send in commissioners to take over the council.
He noted that the report had concluded the “council is currently incapable of tackling its weaknesses, without a sustained intervention”.
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 and businesses”.
Despite everything that has happened “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.”
Also: “Strategies and action plans sit on the shelf and don’t get translated into change”.
In short, the report concludes that “Rotherham Council has failed its citizens, is failing to comply with the statutory best value duty, it needs a fresh start”.
Mr Pickles said:
“The crimes committed against children are so appalling, and the council’s remedy so utterly inadequate, that the Government cannot in good conscience turn a blind eye.
“These exceptional circumstances justify Whitehall intervention, so we can make the council address its failings and prevent it from ever happening again.
“I believe that 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 be justified only 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 on service delivery and 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 take pride in their borough.”
Mr Pickles, stressed that democracy would soon be restored and added:
“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.”
But for all democrats this is a discouraging saga. Of course the Labour Party should be ashamed. But there is still the uncomfortable point that the electors of Rotherham are still prepared to vote Labour.
For instance in the 2012 by-election following the resignation of Denis MacShane. That produced a Labour victory. Last year we had the Police and Crime Commissioner by-election for South Yorkshire. Labour won.
Earlier last year in the seats up for election Labour won 11 of them. UKIP won ten.
What would it take for Labour to lose an election in Rotherham?
Furthermore even in this context of terrible Labour scandal the Conservatives did not come close in any of the elections there. Those who were so revolted by what happened that they couldn’t bring themselves to vote Labour anymore seemed overwhelmingly to have switched to UKIP.
So a source of shame for Labour but also a measure of the challenge that Conservatives face to represent all parts of the nation.