A CULTURE of male-dominated bullying at Rotherham Council contributed to the town’s child sex abuse scandal, senior figures have said.
Professor Alexis Jay, whose report revealed 1,400 abuse cases were ignored, missed or overlooked in Rotherham, has said the macho environment made it difficult to tackle child abuse at the council.
At the same time new council leader Paul Lakin has admitted that bullying and inappropriate behaviour at the council was widespread.
The pair were appearing before a Common’s select committee at which prof Jay told MPs she believed the 1,400 figure of children abused by mostly Asian men was “a conservative figure”.
She went on to say that despite extensive enquiries her investigation was unable to find copies of four years of minutes and notes from child care services and other committees.
The report author said there were major gaps in the information available as a result of poor record keeping at the council, and that abuse referrals to social workers often went missing.
When council officials were “overwhelmed” with cases some children were simply removed from the list, the committee heard.
Prof Jay said part of the problem was in leadership, and that Rotherham was an “extremely traditional male dominated administration” and this made child sexual issue difficult to solve.
“I don’t think this was an appropriate environment to be discussing an issue as sensitive as child exploitation,” she said.
But she warned against thinking the abuse was unique to the council.
“It’s not unique to Rotherham and anyone who thinks it is is truly misguided,” prof Jay added.
Mr Larkin told the select committee that scrutiny arrangements were not strong enough at a council which at one point had only two or three non-Labour councillors.
“I think you will always have a problem where you have single party with a large majority such as Rotherham had,” he said.
Asked if he agreed with Prof Jay’s assessment of widespread bullying, he said: “The bullying culture did exist in the council. I have seen overzealous questioning of officers. I have seen where officers have been inappropriate to members.”
Mr Lakin revealed the battle he had faced to force officials and leaders to tackle abuse and set up the independent inquiry.
He told the committee: “I had trouble at time getting child sexual exploitation to be a priority on the political agenda.
“By 2010 I had become dissatisfied with council officials.
“It took us three years to get to the point of calling in professor Jay.”
He added: “The leader was not keen initially on commissioning the Jay report, and it led to a heated debate in his office that had to be referred by the deputy leader.
“ I said I will be walking out and calling for it if you do not do it.”
Asked what he was doing to address the child care issues raised in the report, Mr Lakin said that while changes were being made, funding remained an issue.
“We have taken a hit on our budget of well over 30%, so any money we can find for this has to come from existing budgets, unless the Government is going to fund this.”
He added that the council would reopen cases, saying: “These young people have been let down and we owe it to them to go through their case files and see if someone can be brought to task.”