February 17: Will lessons be finally learned? Abuse response inconsistencies

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EVEN THOUGH the issue of child sexual exploitation continues to be viewed through the prism of Rotherham, and the catalogue of systemic failings which led to the abuse of at least 1,400 young people not being properly investigated by the authorities, this scandal is not unique to South Yorkshire.

A growing number of instances have come to light across the country and there is a widely-shared belief that many more occurrences are still to emerge because of the complexity of the cases concerned.

Yet, while it is now easier for victims to come forward, not least because of the new protocols being followed by local councils and the police, today’s report by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner highlights significant disparities in how the relevant agencies respond to abuse allegations. This is unacceptable, even more so at a time when senior politicians and police chiefs – both nationally and locally – have been saying, as they always do after reports such as the Alexis Jay and Louise Casey exposés into Rotherham, that ‘lessons will be learned’. This is too important to be left to chance – the agencies concerned should be tasked with national criteria and held to account until confidence has been restored.

Just as significant is the disturbing revelation that half of police forces have experienced barriers to “sharing information”. More than 10 years after the Bichard inquiry into the murders of Soham schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman made a series of recommendations to enable constabularies to share information, it is, frankly, scandalous that such obstacles stand in the way of the pursuit of justice.

Abusers and criminals can never be expected to respect local government boundaries for the convenience of relevant agencies.

Unfortunately the only conclusion is that the Children’s Commissioner and others will be repeating their call for greater consistency in the future unless lessons are not only learned but implemented. That’s the challenge.

Schools stand-off

IT WOULD be remiss of the major political parties not to ring-fence funding for schools after the next election – education, after all, holds the key to the future success of today’s generation of young people.

What is slightly disingenuous, however, is the failure of political parties to be straight with voters about the conditions that are attached to such promises. The protection in NHS funding has not been matched by safeguards to social care, prompting home visits to the elderly to be limited to a matter of minutes, and David Cameron’s commitment to school does not appear to be water-tight.

As well as his promise failing to take account of the expected rise in the number of pupils being taught, it is claimed by headteachers in Leeds that it does not reflect the increases in pensions and National Insurance contributions that schools will be extended to fund from this September onwards. Staff at one leading secondary school in the city, Benton Park, claim that they’re likely to be £250,000 a year worse off – the equivalent of six full-time teaching posts.

Even with an extra £390m being made available to cover this change in responsibility, there is a likelihood that the amount of spending per pupil will actually fall in the next Parliament – a state of affairs which appears to be at odds with the impression created by Mr Cameron. The Tory leader needs to clear up any misunderstanding if he is to avoid claims that he is being economical with the truth.

Double standards

HOW IRONIC that Ed Miliband tried to position Labour as the “party of small business” in the immediate aftermath of 
Ed Balls saying that people have a duty to collect receipts from tradespeople, such as gardeners, cleaners and window-cleaners, for the smallest cash-in-hand jobs.

It is an early sign that Labour’s return to pernicious rules and regulations threaten to stifle the economic recovery – and the culture of enterprise which is critical to lessening Britain’s dependency on the public sector.

Contrary to the impression created by the Shadow Chancellor, one-man businesses are not the villains when it comes to tax avoidance. They are amongst some of the most upstanding members of society, but they are the people being vilified by Mr Balls because past and present governments did not clamp down on those political donors whose tax arrangements have caused so much anger. Talk about double standards.