Statement from Cllr Paul Lakin

Published Thursday, 11th September 2014
Paul Lakin
Cllr Paul Lakin

Statement delivered by Cllr Paul Lakin, Leader of the Council, at a meeting of the Council on Wednesday 10 September 2014:

The people of Rotherham have been let down badly, and for too many years, by several agencies in this town, over the sexual abuse and exploitation of many of our children and young people.

Those children had the right to expect better of us, and we failed them. The Council accepts its responsibility and its full share of the blame for that failure, and I want to start by placing on the record, on behalf of the whole Council, our sincere and unreserved apology, to all the victims and their families, for the suffering they have endured over the years.

I am – we are – deeply, deeply sorry.

The Jay report makes clear that the scale of the problem was far greater than anyone imagined, except those who were actually suffering its effects of course.

But it was happening, and some people knew it was happening, and some of them, were in a position to do something about it, but did not.

We need to ensure that they are called to account.

We will not brush this issue under the carpet. For too long the voices of victims were not even listened to, let alone heard; outrageously in some cases, the victims themselves were blamed.

But we are listening now, and the victim’s voices are being heard.  We will do everything in our power to help and support them, and the Jay recommendations will be implemented in full.

When I became lead Member for Children and Young People's Services in 2010 it became clear to me that there were profound concerns about how we keep our children safe.

Since 2010 we have had several independent reviews of our current practice in children’s services.  Each report has made its own recommendations and they are being implemented.

While highlighting the many challenges that we still need to address, Ms Jay says herself on page two of her report: “There have been many improvements in the last four years by both the Council and the Police...”

We have already made improvements towards achieving a service standard that our children need and deserve, although, tragically, such improvements have come far too late for many victims.

We needed to learn from our past mistakes. That is why we commissioned the Jay report. As I have said, the Council accepts her recommendations in full and will implement them in full. I look forward to working with the independent chair of the safeguarding board, Steve Ashley, to make sure that nothing is overlooked.

Ms Jay says that the majority of perpetrators in the cases that she looked at were from the Pakistani-Heritage community.   I want to make something very clear: people who sexually abuse and exploit children are committing vile criminal acts, plain and simple.

Such criminals should face the full force of the law, irrespective of the colour of their skin, irrespective of their ethnicity, and the council will do everything it can to help to bring them to justice.

And I want us to go further than the Jay report recommendations. My immediate programme of action includes the following:

1. An immediate allocation of £120,000 to support local counselling services for victims and survivors.  This will be funded by a 25% reduction in the size of the Council’s Cabinet - that’s two posts, and a moratorium on all overseas travel by Council Members.  This immediate help will be followed by the commissioning of proper long-term provision to support victims - support that is long overdue.

2. I will dissolve the Cabinet and start the process of choosing the new one this afternoon.

3. I have asked the Local Government Association to establish an independently-chaired Improvement Board.  It will have a majority of senior independent people from outside Rotherham to advise and assist the council on governance and scrutiny. The membership will comprise the following:

  • A serving or recently retired Council Chief Executive
  • A serving or recently retired Director of Children’s Services
  • A serving or recently retired Director of Finance
  • An external ‘peer’ from each of the represented parties on the council: one Labour, one UKIP and one
  • Conservative
  • The Leader and Deputy Leader of the Council
  • One Member of the Council nominated by each of the minority parties

4.  I have instructed the Chief Executive to review again the involvement of staff as detailed in the Jay report to ascertain whether capability and/or disciplinary procedures should be applied to any current member of staff.

5. Councillor Roger Stone has rightly taken his share of the responsibility and has resigned as Leader of the Council. The Labour Party, for its part, is currently investigating the role of Councillors during the period, and will take appropriate action. I urge the other parties to do the same.

6. The Chief Executive has recognised the need for a fresh start and tendered his resignation this Monday 8 September. He will stay on during his notice period to help the Council in the transition to the appointment of a new Chief Executive.

7. I will be writing to the Chief Constable of South Yorkshire urging him to take appropriate action against any current or former serving police officers identified in the report.

8. The Jay report and subsequent articles in the Times and Telegraph, make shocking claims of collusion and cover up in relation to a 2002 Home Office report and the alleged disappearance of files from the Risky Business Project.  Along with Alexis Jay, I find this deeply troubling. Therefore, I am asking the Chief Executive to investigate the matter further and pass any information to the Police, the Home Office and the Home Affairs Select Committee.

9. In one instance, Jay found an issue in a case file that should have been reported to the police and hadn't been. It is important that the public can have confidence in the preventative and enforcement action taken by the council and its partners. I am therefore writing to the Home Secretary to invite her to appoint a specialist, on her behalf, to review any case files they wish, and make recommendations on these cases to both Rotherham Council and South Yorkshire Police.

Today Rotherham is in the spotlight, and rightly so. But one of the most horrifying aspects of this whole distressing business is that it does not just affect Rotherham; it is clearly a national issue and must also be addressed at national level. That is why I strongly support the Government’s forthcoming review into child sexual abuse. 

For too long this council has had a closed culture of bullying and intimidation that was ‘macho and sexist’ as Ms Jay puts it.  All of us need to ensure that Rotherham benefits from a fresh start, by its Council applying principles of openness, inclusive decision-making, and true accountability to the people who elected us.

We need to face up to the town’s past to ensure that these horrific events cannot happen again, ever, and so that all our citizens can have the future that they deserve. We will face up to what is required of us now, we will have to work hard, but work hard we will, to rebuild and restore public trust and public confidence. 

Change, real change, will come and the children of Rotherham will be heard. I hope the measures I have announced today will be the first steps towards that achieving that goal.

That is all I want to say at this stage, but there will be an opportunity for full debate when we reach motions later in the agenda.