Formal Statement by Cllr Roger Stone, Leader of the Council
As I stated earlier, I want at this point to raise an urgent item relating to the issue of child sexual exploitation (CSE).
I know that I speak for us all in condemning unreservedly this vile crime and acknowledging the devastating impact it has on the young victims and those who love and care for them. We apologise unreservedly to those young people who have been let down by our safeguarding services which prior to 2009 simply weren’t good enough.
We are also all aware of the continued public and media interest in these issues, and in particular of the recent and ongoing public debate following the publication of a number of articles in the Times newspaper.
Unfortunately, those articles did not include the full and detailed explanation provided by the Council, our acknowledgement of historic service failures and details of subsequent improvements.
There has also been widespread reporting of the decision by the Police and Crime Commissioner to commission a three-pronged inquiry into South Yorkshire Police’s handling of child sexual exploitation cases. This follows our request in January of this year that the police carry out a historical review of all potential cases of sexual exploitation that have taken place in the borough, and the instigation of our own internal review of those cases to greater facilitate that work.
As a Council we have reiterated time and time again that the safeguarding of our young people here in Rotherham is our HIGHEST priority. We see the exploitation of our young people as a crime that must not be overlooked or forgotten and we will pursue each and every case to ensure that justice is done.
Our safeguarding services have been subject to rigorous external and independent scrutiny since that time, when central Government intervened to ensure the level of improvement required was actually delivered. Government officials and external experts were part of the Improvement Board which throughout 2010 and into 2011 undertook a major review which led to ongoing improvements in safeguarding practice and policy which mean our culture and approach are unrecognisable from that which existed 10 years ago.
The lifting of the formal improvement notice, and Ofsted inspections of these services in consecutive years, demonstrate that the improvements are real, and have been sustained and successful.
We must now remain focused on ensuring that the clear result of this and of all the improvements we have made is:-
– the greatest possible protection for our children;
– the toughest possible justice for the perpetrators
– and wherever it is possible, closure for those victims who have suffered the devastating impact of this vile crime.
But in addition to this, we must also recognise that there remains a need to convince and reassure the public that real change has been achieved; to restore public confidence in the safeguarding services that the Council provides now and in the future; to show that people have been genuinely held to account and to demonstrate clearly our understanding and appreciation of the devastating consequences of these historic failings.
For this reason, following detailed discussions with the Chief Executive, I am asking Cabinet to endorse the proposal to commission an independent inquiry into historic child sexual exploitation cases in Rotherham.
I am asking the Chief Executive to draft Terms of Reference, and to identify an appropriate individual or individuals outside the Council and outside Rotherham to lead this important piece of work. I am also asking him to identify when the review could start, how long it might take and to set out the governance and reporting arrangements.
The Home Affairs Select Committee has been extremely critical of the record on prosecutions in South Yorkshire and has clearly stated that bringing perpetrators to justice is a significant issue in the fight against child sexual exploitation.
Of course, no one agency can win the battle against this despicable crime alone and we remain committed to a joint approach with our partners, particularly with South Yorkshire Police and the Crown Prosecution Service.
For this reason, we very much welcome the PCC’s three-pronged review, announced last week, and now that the police have indicated their approach, the Council can work alongside that process to ensure we have a full picture of what has happened.
I would expect that the Council’s independent inquiry will run parallel to the police review and follow a broadly similar timetable for reporting. It goes without saying that I expect the inquiry’s findings to be made public.
The Chief Executive will bring back a report back to Cabinet at its next meeting on 18th September – in two weeks’ time – when we will see the detailed approach and begin what I see as a significant milestone in our fight against the scourge of CSE.
This statement was given by Council Leader – Roger Stone to the Full Cabinet Meeting on 4th September.