TROUBLED Rotherham Council is aiming for a fresh start as Labour sift through their local election candidate list - ditching those with links to previous regimes.
Government commissioners intervened to help run the authority in 2014 after it was found to have failed young victims of a wide-spread sexual abuse scandal.
With every single one of Rotherham’s 63 seats up for grabs in the council’s first all-up local election on May 5, Labour’s shadow communities and local government secretary and Hemsworth MP Jon Trickett, said the party has tried hard to sever links to a handful of past councillors.
He said: “The Labour Party was determined that any candidate that stood for the Labour Party was absolutely clear of any of the problems that the area had faced. So it was very rigorous, very tough. Some long standing councillors were no longer able to go onto the list.”
Twelve sitting Labour councillors either stood down or were rejected at interview to contest their seat in the local election, and a further ten party members hoping to run in the election were turned down to represent the party at interview.
There are 26 new candidates standing for the council this year.
Mr Trickett said: “I am confident, as confident as anyone possibly can be, that we are presenting to the electorate the strong list of councillor candidates.
“It is unusual because the boundaries have changed and it is an all out election but we have to convince people in Rotherham, just as we do in the rest in the country, that we deserve their vote and we are there to serve people and not in any other way - that’s out job. Also to give over the national message that we will stand up for Rotherham, rather than standing by and allowing places like Rotherham’s services to be cut.”
Immediately after the child sex abuse scandal was made public in 2014, Rotherham’s leader of the council Roger Stone stepped down from his position and was replaced by councillor Paul Lakin. Coun Lakin then worked alongside Government commissioners until a report by Louise Casey found the authority had failed to accept the abuse of 1,400 children and had abdicated responsibility for the town’s vulnerable children. By February 2015, councillor Chris Read was appointed leader. Under Coun Read’s tenure the authority has been handed back a number of powers from Central Government but not licensing or children’s social care.
Mr Trickett, who is leading Labour’s local election campaign, has been criticised by fellow members of his party for being unambitious in how many seats he thinks the party can win on May 5 across the country.
He has said he wants to build on the party’s position in 2015, where they suffered devastating losses of 203 seats after previous years of significant gains and finished behind the Conservatives.
Michael Dugher, MP for Barnsley East, believes Labour should be aiming to gain 400 seats, nudging them closer to Labour’s key 2012 success where it gained 534 seats in the local election.
Mr Trickett said making a comparison with 2012 was not right and “the fairest thing is to take the last election and push it forward from there.”
He said: “The last election was 2015. We are building from 2015 through to 2020 and I think we have seen steady progress. You can’t compare it to the previous election because the boundaries have been changed. We are very ambitious. We are fighting for every single seat.”