Council chief falls on sword

THE decision of Rotherham Council chief executive Martin Kimber to step down in the wake of the sexual exploitation of 1,400 young children, and the inadequate intervention of his authority, falls into the “better late than never” category.

It would have been more prudent for Mr Kimber to resign two weeks ago when Professor Alexis Jay’s report was published rather than trying – forlornly – to cling onto his job. It still defies belief that he did not see fit to discipline a single official since joining the shamed authority in 2009.

The timing is also embarrassing for South Yorkshire’s crime commissioner Shaun Wright who headed children’s services in Rotherham between 2005 and 2010; the former Labour councillor is due to give evidence to Parliament’s Home Affairs Select Committee this afternoon about his own ineffectual response to reports of abuse and arrogant refusal to resign.

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Yet there are still two unanswered questions about Mr Kimber’s role in the betrayal of those under-age children who were allowed to be sexually groomed – and then abused – by Pakistani gangs. First, taxpayers still need an assurance that the outgoing chief executive will receive no severance package – such a payment would be regarded as the ultimate reward for failure.

Second, it would be insulting to the victims concerned if Mr Kimber was allowed to walk into another job in the public sector. When Prof Jay’s revelations were published, he admitted that there were officials “still in professional practice who worked in Rotherham during the critical period” and that their current employers would be informed. The same must apply to the chief executive. For, if he becomes the latest addition to a long list of failed public sector executives to avoid accountability, Ministers will have to legislate to close these abuses of power.

In the driving seat

Time to put rail passengers first

if THE performance of teachers, doctors or police officers slipped to just over 40 per cent, serious questions would be asked about their competence. Why, therefore, does the same principle not apply to the railway industry, after new figures confirmed that just four out of 10 Virgin CrossCountry trains ran on time in Yorkshire last year?

Given that Sir Richard Branson’s train firm is generously subsidised by taxpayers to provide a public service, the latest data is further evidence that passengers are being taken for a ride and that Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin needs to instigate a new era of transparency so the railway industry’s tired old excuses can finally be shunted off to the sidings.

Virgin is not the only culprit – it is not their fault that their long-distance trains which shuttle between Scotland and Cornwall are invariably held up by late-running services on a rail network that is operating at capacity. This is why the HS2 high-speed line from Yorkshire to London is much-needed.

Yet this should not stop Mr McLoughlin from introducing stricter performance criteria, starting with the renegotiation of the TransPennine Express and Northern Rail franchises in these parts. It cannot be right for passengers to pay more for the privilege of travelling by train when so little of this is reinvested in new rolling stock.

In the week that some fares locally rose by 77 per cent, despite George Osborne promising to limit next year’s increase, it is high time that passengers were given more convincing explanations about the railway industry’s under-performance.

In very safe hands

Royal family unites the kingdom

CONTRAST the quiet dignity of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge with the fawning response of Britain’s political elite to the joyous news that the Royal couple are now expecting their second child.

Nick Clegg advised Kate and William to “stock up on as much sleep as you can” while SNP leader Alex Salmond couldn’t resist sending his heartfelt congratulations to the Countess of Strathearn – the official title of the Duchess when visiting Scotland.

Yet, while these are uncertain times ahead of next week’s referendum on Scottish independence, it should be remembered that it is the Royal family – rather than any political party or movement – which continues to unite the whole of Great Britain and the Commonwealth, and that this stems from the selflessness of the Queen.

How reassuring, therefore, to know that the Her Majesty’s devotion to duty is being passed down the generations and that the future of the House of Windsor is in safe hands.