Response to Independent Investigations Reports
- Statement from Rotherham Council Commissioners following the publication of the independent investigations reports
- Response from Rotherham Council Leader, Cllr Chris Read, following the publication of the independent investigations reports (You are here)
Response from Rotherham Council Leader, Cllr Chris Read, following the publication of the independent investigations reports
Commissioner, colleagues – it has been three years since the publication of the Jay Report, and almost two and half years to the day since I stood here as the newly elected leader of this council.
The publication of the reports that we receive today will bring memories of those days flooding back. The relief and the horror of the truths we heard that day. The reality that for many of us, the world would never quite be the same again.
And the questions that we asked then – how could this have happened? Who knew? Who could be held to account? – are what brought us to these publications. It is because we owed it to those children who were so let down that the council commissioned these independent reports, to try to shed more light on the failings of the past, and those who were responsible.
Today's publication sets out as clearly as possible all the information that independent investigators have been able to establish. I thank them for their endeavours. Collecting and collating the information here has been a substantial task. We are publishing the reports on our website and webcasting today's meeting to be as open as we possibly can.
I said that day in March 2015 that I had no time for anyone who might be in denial, or who would split hairs. And as Leader of the Council I must accept today's reports in that same spirit.
I take reassurance that we have been addressing the systemic failings within the council. Many of the issues raised are familiar and work has long been under way to rectify them.
The reports do not bring to light substantial new themes or challenges, and members of this council can take confidence from that. You will find in the cover report some details of the changes that have taken place since the time period covered by the reports.
Where there are specific new recommendations, including those relating to individuals, we will ensure that these are actioned.
Colleagues, I fear none of that makes some of the conclusions we've heard today any less disappointing or frustrating. Of course the failings in Rotherham were profound and continued for years. Of course not everyone who worked for the council over that time period was badly intentioned. It almost goes without saying that such failures cannot rest solely at the door of one person. But that doesn't mean that the failure to establish individual culpability is any easier to swallow. The Gowling report confirms that former senior staff missed opportunities to take stronger action and improve the council's response to child sexual exploitation. We know only too well what happened next.
Moreover I hope those who refused to take part, including those former Labour councillors, understand the consequences of their choice. Our survivors deserve far better than their miserable silence.
Like many of you, there hasn't been a day in my life in the last three years when I haven't thought about what went wrong here, and what we must keep doing to make tomorrow again better than today.
Public services are great civilising forces in our country. Our public servants make heroic differences to people's lives every day, and often without remark. But when those services fail, the consequences for the most vulnerable residents can be – and were - catastrophic.
They say that the past is a foreign country: they do things differently there. Indeed they did.
We had no choice but to make fundamental changes to our council, and we have.
I am conscious that there may be people watching this today who haven't followed our progress over these last few years. We have an entirely new senior leadership team, a majority of our councillors newly elected since the start of 2015, more external scrutiny than ever before.
We are making huge investments in our Children's Services, bringing down social work caseloads, and holding our staff to a high standard. We've rebuilt our services tackling child sexual exploitation and support services to survivors. Our taxi licensing policy is vaunted as best practice in councils across the country.
And as a result, the government's unprecedented intervention into Rotherham Council is rolling back.
26 perpetrators of non-recent and current child sexual exploitation offences are jailed for a total of 360 years for the horrific suffering they inflicted on our children. I believe there will be many more prosecutions over the next few years, as we continue to support the National Crime Agency with the biggest operation in British history into CSE. The reports we receive today are based largely on people who volunteered to take part. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that with criminal investigation powers there is still more to be learned about some of the people who failed Rotherham so badly.
Today marks another step along our journey, but nothing alters the facts. That so many children were let down. That so many abusers have walked free for so long. In our town. I know that there will be survivors of child sexual exploitation and their families here today and listening to us. So let me say again what I said two years ago: As a councillor, a member of the Labour Party, a citizen of Rotherham – I am still deeply sorry for what went wrong.
We can't change the past. I wish we could. But I hope that these reports help to give you some solace.
I hope they help to prevent further suffering in the future.
Like most of you here, I am from Rotherham. I grew up here, during the time covered by the Jay Report. This is personal to me.
We have changed our council and we will keep doing so, to give every child the safety and the opportunities that I have had, and make Rotherham a beacon to the rest of the country. Let that be our resolution today.