April 20: Time to put children first: Rotherham fretting over image

NO ONE doubts the importance of effective communication to a 21st-century local authority keen to keep its taxpayers informed on all aspects of the council’s work.

But, at a time when councils everywhere are reducing spending and cutting staff, it might be thought that, with 27 communications workers already on the books at an annual budget of £713,000, the very last thing that Rotherham Council needs is a new PR specialist at £1,700-a-week.

The explanation for this costly vanity project, of course, is the scandal that has seen more than 1,400 children raped and sexually abused over a 16-year period, many of them supposedly in the council’s care, while the authorities turned a blind eye.

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Considering that this is one of the most shameful episodes in the history of local government, it might be thought that, if ever a council needed an expensive image consultant, it is Rotherham.

But that would be to miss the point. One of the most appalling aspects of the sex-abuse scandal was the way in which the council repeatedly gave the impression that it was far more concerned with protecting its own reputation than with protecting the children of Rotherham, a point made in Louise Casey’s report into the council’s failings, published earlier this year.

If there is one thing that Rotherham Council does not need to improve, it is its skill at airbrushing its own image and watching its own back. Why it needs to employ the self-styled “dynamic communications and reputation specialist”, Mark Fletcher-Brown, therefore, is unclear.

Instead of constantly fretting about its reputation, Rotherham Council needs to accept that its standing is at rock bottom because of its disgraceful failure to protect those in its care from being abused and exploited in the most shocking fashion.

And the only way to improve its reputation is through the long, painful process of reforming its child-protection system until the public finally has faith that nothing remotely approaching a scandal of this magnitude could ever happen in Rotherham again.

Degree of support; student boost for Tories

MID ONE of the most uninspiring election campaigns in memory, it is heartening that, according to a new poll, only 14 per cent of students are not intending to vote or are uncertain as to which party to support.

It is also somewhat surprising, given the apathy towards traditional party politics that is believed to be widespread among younger voters, that the majority of students are likely to vote Conservative or Labour, according to the findings of High Fliers Research.

But what is good news for the two main parties is cold comfort for the Liberal Democrats, with only six per cent of the 13,000 final-year undergraduates questioned saying they intend to vote for the party.

The study’s authors conclude that this is another sign of the sense of betrayal felt by students over Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s U-turn on tuition fees. Unfortunately for the Lib Dem leader, it is also another portent of doom for his chances of being re-elected in Sheffield Hallam, a constituency with a large student population, and therefore for the likelihood of another Tory/Lib Dem coalition.

There is, however, encouragement for the Conservatives here that, if only they can succeed in putting more life into their campaign, even the youth vote is a potential well of Tory support.

And what better way of persuading the undecided young than by eye-catching ideas such as giving people the chance to buy shares in Lloyds and thereby using the economic success that the Conservatives are so fond of boasting about to help to produce a new generation of share-holders with a stake in the fortunes of British business?

Old ways return: A new era of make do and mend

VOTING CONSERVATIVE may not be the only old-fashioned habit that the young are acquiring.

According to a study by the Royal Voluntary Service, those aged 18-24 would welcome the chance to learn how to crochet, brew beer, make preserves or learn other traditional skills.

An era of austerity has produced a new culture of make do and mend, says the charity, with Yorkshire being at the centre of a renaissance in the craft skills of home baking.

Considering that so many older people find such skills valuable not only in themselves, but also as crucial for keeping themselves active and staving off loneliness, their adoption by the young is doubly encouraging.

Austerity may have its drawbacks, but if it is helping to reconnect the generations, if the young are turning to the elderly to learn skills that it was once feared would soon be forgotten, then who can say that it has been a wholly bad thing?