Tom Richmond: The questions Ed Miliband must answer on Rotherham

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WHAT did Ed Miliband know about the Rotherham sex grooming scandal – and when did he know that 1,400 young people had been betrayed by the town’s Labour-controlled council over 16 shameful years?

I ask these questions after the Doncaster North MP’s totally ineffectual response to Professor Alexis Jay’s damning report into the serial failures of the local authority, South Yorkshire Police and others.

The reason is this. It took 96 hours for Miliband to come off a wobbly fence at midnight last Saturday morning and call for Shaun Wright, chairman of the children’s services committee from 2005 to 2010, to resign as his local crime commissioner.

If this is indicative of Miliband’s decision-making, I’m afraid he has demonstrated that he is totally unsuitable to be Prime Minister when he will be expected to make snap-second judgements that could, on occasion, be a matter of life and death.

The reason Miliband was slow to respond, according to Labour aides, was because he was on holiday with his family. A fair defence – apart from the fact that Miliband and his officials spent the week providing a running commentary, through statements or tweets, on the sad death of Lord Attenborough, the latest developments in the Israel/Gaza conflict and disgruntled Tory backbencher Douglas Carswell’s abrupt decision to defect to Ukip.

After waiting for David Cameron and Nick Clegg to demand Wright’s resignation, Miliband finally intervened 48 hours after the inept Wright had resigned the Labour whip. Talk about after the proverbial horse had bolted.

It gets worse for Miliband. He then renewed his challenge for the Government to accelerate its “over-arching inquiry” into child abuse scandals, including the abuse committed by the disgraced Jimmy Savile.

Yet this political point scoring neglects the fact that Miliband was photographed shaking hands with Shaun Wright and endorsing his candidature. Given that the abuse dates back to 1997, and a Parliamentary inquiry is now being held into whether it was covered-up by the last Labour government, it is inconceivable, to me, that the Leader of the Opposition – and MP for a nearby constituency – had no inkling about Rotherham Council’s failings.

Miliband also needs to explain how he intends to hold Rotherham Labour Party to account after its councillors were shown to be complicit in ignoring the sexual grooming of under-age children by criminal gangs of Pakistani origin.

I’m afraid the suspension of Rotherham Council leader Roger Stone, one individual who did fall on his sword last week, and three others does not go far enough. It just buys Labour time. To me, every councillor who was on the authority between 1997 and last year should resign, or submit themselves for re-election, so Rotherham can make a fresh start – they all failed to protect the vulnerable or hold council officials to account. But that requires leadership – a word not readily associated with Ed Miliband.

Ed Miliband’s embarrassment is not helped by the arrogant Shaun Wright continuing to refuse to resign as South Yorkshire’s crime commissioner 11 days after his reputation was left in tatters following the devastating expose over Rotherham Council’s mishandling of one of this country’s greatest ever child abuse scandals.

Wright now says it would be wrong to step down because of the cost of a by-election – last month’s poll saw a by-election in the West Midlands, following the death of Labour’s Bob Jones, cost £3.7m and saw just 200,000 legitimate votes registered. This equated to a cost of just under £20 per vote.

To me, this does not justify Wright remaining in post until 2016. His refusal to accept personal responsibility for his failings means no one will take him seriously if he has to use the Commissioner’s powers to hold senior police officers to account in one of Britain’s most discredited constabularies – and Chief Constable David Crompton was an unconvincing witness when he appeared before Parliament on Tuesday over the raid on Sir Cliff Richard’s home.

Wright is a lame duck and his stubbornness highlights the need for MPs to pass so-called “recall” legislation so MPs, crime commissioners and councillors can be voted out of office if they compromise the public interest.

PAYING for care homes for the elderly or the upkeep of the local park? This is the dilemma which is set to confront local authorities in the future.

The likelihood that councillors will opt for the former has prompted the Campaign to Protect Rural England, the National Trust and the RSPB to warn that city parks could be left untended because of insufficient funds in town hall budgets.

There is a solution, however. Given that these parks are priceless community and leisure assets, why can’t appropriate locations be given “national park” status?

Yes, it would require the Government to set up an endowment fund to help generate the revenue to pay for the upkeep of these parks – town halls would be able to apply for funds – but it would prevent these assets from becoming over-run by weeds and dog mess.

MAKE no mistake. British rowing’s heir to Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent is Andrew Triggs Hodge, who stroked the coxless fours boat to the World Championships last weekend. There is now a special aura around the two-time Olympic champion, all the more remarkable because the 35-year-old hails from Hebden in the landlocked Yorkshire Dales and was working in a
 local bar before taking up the sport at Staffordshire University. It’s an oar-some story.

A FRIEND told me of the disruption in South Wales as a consequence of the Nato summit. He said there were so many PR events that he wasn’t sure if there was time for meaningful dialogue on the so-called Islamic State or Russia’s aggression.Why Wales? Couldn’t they be held at Nato headquarters in Brussels, which already has all the security mechanisms in place? Or would that mean leaders spending time together rather than grandstanding for the cameras?