The politicians asleep on job

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FIRST IT was senior executives at Rotherham Council who were found to have betrayed at least 1,400 victims of child sex exploitation. Then past and present chief constables of South Yorkshire Police were found not to have treated this issue with sufficient seriousness. And now it emerges that elected councillors were asleep on the job and failed to defend the public interest without fear or favour – their primary role.

FIRST IT was senior executives at Rotherham Council who were found to have betrayed at least 1,400 victims of child sex exploitation. Then past and present chief constables of South Yorkshire Police were found not to have treated this issue with sufficient seriousness. And now it emerges that elected councillors were asleep on the job and failed to defend the public interest without fear or favour – their primary role.

Today’s hard-hitting report by Parliament’s Communities and Local Government Committee, headed by Sheffield MP Clive Betts, offers further evidence of the extent to which the abuse victims were let down by a succession of public servants, and how this was compounded by the failure of Ofsted inspectors to spot the scale at which grooming allegations were being covered up.

As well as not being able to identify the whereabouts of missing documents, this latest inquiry’s most disturbing aspect is the ineptitude of Rotherham’s councillors and their failure to ask any searching questions. The fact that there was little or no opposition to the Labour-controlled authority for much of the period in question, enabling the party to regard the town hall as its own fiefdom, clearly perpetuated a damaging culture of complacency.

However, it would be wrong to apportion blame for this to the electorate. They have a right to expect their councillors to represent the local community and a significant number chose, for whatever reason, not to challenge the council leadership – whether senior executives or political leaders – on the abuse allegations. Such dereliction of duty is made even more reprehensible by the fact that today’s councillors are well-recompensed for their responsibilities – they are no longer expected to act solely out of civic duty.

It will now be up to the consciences of the councillors concerned – and the Labour Party for that matter – to determine whether those shamed by this report stand for re-election. Time will tell whether they take the right decision, or not. Yet, with Mr Betts again stressing the need for senior council staff – including those no longer employed by Rotherham Council – to “be held accountable for their actions”, it would be contradictory if the same principle did not apply to those politicians who have also been found culpable.

Change of pace

Head of steam on the railways

BETTER LATE than never – just like the trains. That will be the reaction of commuters to Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin’s wish for the antiquated Pacer services rattling along the region’s railways to be replaced with more modern rolling stock.

A political head of steam is clearly gathering momentum – both George Osborne and Nick Clegg have made similar sentiments in recent weeks – and the forthcoming Autumn Statement will be a test of the Government’s belated commitment to the North, and the overhaul of the region’s creaking transport infrastructure.

As The Yorkshire Post has repeatedly highlighted in recent weeks, it is vital that the procurement of new trains is a key component of the bids that Mr McLoughlin’s department is now considering for the Northern Rail and TransPennine Express franchises.

Nothing less will suffice if the North is, in time, to be the beneficiary of a state-of-the-art railway that has the capacity – and trains – to be a driver of economic growth. Yorkshire has played second fiddle to the transport needs of London for too long, and it is to Mr McLoughlin’s credit that he is working to reverse this.

A head’s stoicism

School mourning five students

AS grieving pupils at Doncaster’s Danum Academy pay emotional tributes to the five past and present classmates who were killed in a head-on car crash in fog, it would be remiss not to acknowledge the leadership and stoicism shown by the school’s headteacher Rebecca Staples and her colleagues.

Even though teachers are trained to respond sensitively to tragedies, and in particular the emotional and spiritual needs of pupils, it is rare for a single school to suffer a loss on this scale and no one can fail to be moved by the compassion of Ms Staples whose response, thus far, has been a credit to her profession.

At a time when she, too, is mourning the loss of five individuals who had made their mark on school life, the strength of her leadership – and the practicality of the support that has been put in place – will offer much comfort to the Danum Academy community in the traumatic days, weeks and months that lie ahead.