February 2: May must act on sex abuse

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THERE HAS been no shortage of official institutions to share the blame for Rotherham’s sex-abuse scandal.

Chief among these has been the Labour-run council and South Yorkshire Police, both of which have rightly borne the brunt of criticism for failing to prevent the rape and trafficking of hundreds of Rotherham girls by gangs of Asian men between 1997 and 2013.

Yet so great is this scandal that it reaches far beyond Rotherham and the dismal failure of local agencies. Evidence produced during Professor Alexis Jay’s investigation of the scandal, for example, suggests that a Home Office researcher sent a damning report of what was happening to Whitehall as early as 2002.

Yet not only does the researcher claim that she was then forced out of Rotherham by police and council officials angry at the whistleblowing, but it has also emerged that her report has been lost somewhere in the corridors of Whitehall.

To top off this catalogue of ineptitude – to give it its most charitable interpretation – it now appears that, five months after Theresa May promised a Home Office review into the missing report, the matter has been taken no further. Indeed, the impression now given is that the whole issue has been conveniently parked until after the General Election.

How on earth can Mrs May believe that this is acceptable? Only this week, Rotherham MP Sarah Champion said that the number of victims may be even more than the 1,400 children so far identified, while victims themselves claim that the abuse in Rotherham is still going on and Professor Jay says she believes the pattern is being repeated in other towns and cities.

Yet, when the wheels of officialdom are grinding so slowly and so few people have been brought to court, what hope is there of justice being done for the Rotherham victims, never mind preventing further crimes being committed elsewhere? Mrs May must realise that this is a matter of urgency and act accordingly.

Devolution deal

THE MAJOR parties have spent the past few years talking a good game on devolution, but the onus has been on Labour in particular to prove that it is serious.

This is not just because of the party’s historic reluctance to loosen Whitehall’s reins, but also because any plans to give the English regions more autonomy, in tandem with devolution for Scotland, may cause the party serious electoral damage.

But in Labour’s plans announced today, Ed Balls has been able to steal a march on the Conservatives purely because of Chancellor George Osborne’s mulish refusal to devolve significant financial powers without any regional commitment to elected mayors.

This is why no devolution deal – along the lines of that earmarked for Greater Manchester – has yet been done in West Yorkshire, where there is a deep antipathy to elected mayors, a situation that Mr Balls is keen to exploit.

The Shadow Chancellor will say today that council and business leaders who come together in combined authorities will be able to keep all extra business-rate revenue generated by new economic growth with no strings attached.

How should Mr Osborne respond to this? Simply by jettisoning his unreasonable demands for elected mayors.

The mayoral system may or may not be a good thing, but it surely makes a mockery of the idea of freeing regions from Whitehall control if any extra powers are given solely on the basis that town halls must do precisely what the Treasury says.

Primary task

IT IS good to know that Education Secretary Nicky Morgan is waging a “war on illiteracy and innumeracy” and that children will be expected to know 
their times tables by the age of 11.

But is this any more than a statement of the obvious? Not only are such goals clearly necessary for all children, but aren’t they also the goals the Government has been working towards for the past five years?

Rather than repeated platitudes, the public wants to see hard evidence of the progress made so far in these basic requirements that are crucial to children’s education and employment prospects, as shown in this newspaper’s Turning the Page literacy campaign.

Instead of making statements aimed at showing that she, rather than predecessor Michael Gove, is in charge of the Department of Education, Mrs Morgan would be better off explaining exactly what the Government has achieved so far in boosting literacy and numeracy.