February 19: A new future for Rotherham

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WHEN THE prospective new leader of Rotherham Council, Chris Read, says there are no quick fixes or easy answers to the appalling mismanagement that allowed more than 1,400 girls to be raped and sexually abused for 16 years by gangs of Pakistani men, he makes a major understatement.

A new start, however, has to begin somewhere and, in electing Mr Read and Gordon Watson as leader and deputy leader, Rotherham’s Labour councillors have chosen two reasonably fresh faces who only arrived at the Town Hall towards the latter end of the scandal which resulted in Communities Secretary Eric Pickles condemning the entire authority earlier this month.

However, if Mr Read and Mr Watson want to know the best way of getting to the truth of what really went on, of setting Rotherham on the road to recovery and ensuring that nothing like this can ever happen again, they should follow the example of the town’s Labour MP, Sarah Champion.

Ms Champion has shown herself willing to defy her own party in an attempt to win justice for abuse victims, while Labour nationally seems to be acknowledging that its local party’s years of craven obeisance to the dictates of political correctness created a smokescreen behind which terrible crimes were committed.

It remains to be seen, however, exactly how much influence the new leaders will have on what is now hoped will be Rotherham’s rebirth. For the council has been placed under Government control with major decisions to be taken by a team of five commissioners who have yet to be appointed.

It is understandable that the Government has taken its time over this to ensure that the right people are chosen. However, the council cannot continue to exist in limbo. The quicker the commissioners start work, the quicker Rotherham can get on with the task of confronting the past and charting a new future.

Growth first: Devolution must have clear aims

WHEREAS ALL main parties are agreed that devolution is the way forward for Britain, their approaches are so different and their agendas so various that the end result could easily be logjam and confusion.

This was the message yesterday from John Cridland, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, who has a simple formula for effective devolution: ensure that it promotes economic growth.

At the moment, however, it is far from clear that growth is the priority for politicians planning to devolve powers, regardless of lip service being paid to the idea.

For the Conservatives, for example, it frequently seems that the prime aim of reshaping Britain’s constitution and empowering local government is their own re-election and the promotion of Tory policies. Labour’s devolution agenda, meanwhile, seems guided solely by the party’s own need for political survival. And overshadowing all the decisions being made for England is the desperate fear that if nationalism in Scotland is not placated by huge tranches of devolved powers, the Union itself will be finished.

This is no way to go about shaping political and economic freedoms that will define the future of the English regions for decades to come. Nor is it any way to bring about economic growth.

As Mr Cridland has explained, devolution must be aimed at promoting growth, jobs and investment and minimising bureaucracy and complexity. But this can only be achieved through clear leadership and clear proposals. And at the moment, these priorities seem conspicuous only by their absence.

Horror recalled: The 56 must never be forgotten

THE 1985 Bradford City fire disaster may not be remembered in the same way as the Hillsborough tragedy, yet it had profound effects, resulting in legislation compelling football clubs to pull down outdated stands and in Bradford itself becoming a world leader in the treatment of burns.

It also resulted in grief and loss for the families of 56 football fans who died in the disaster and it is fitting that every opportunity is taken to remember them. This is why The 56, a drama containing survivors’ testimonies, deserves to be supported on its forthcoming national tour, particularly as all profits will go to the University of Bradford Burns Research Unit.

With its barnstorming FA Cup run, today is a time of triumph for Bradford City. But the approaching 30th anniversary is a reminder that its tragedy, too, must never be forgotten.