February 5: Damned and damned again

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THE anger of Communities Secretary Eric Pickles was plain to see as he confirmed his intention to appoint five commissioners to take over the running of crisis-hit Rotherham Council in the wake of its child sex grooming scandal.

The Cabinet Minister had no alternative after an inspection by Louise Casey confirmed that the troubled authority was “not fit for purpose” and that it required “a fresh start”. Rarely, in the history of local government, has a negligence report been so damning of public officials and elected councillors.

It remains to be seen whether further criminal prosecutions will follow– new allegations that a police officer and two councillors abused girls remain some of the most serious, and disturbing, yet.

In the meantime, Mr Pickles, and his team, urgently need to bring some semblance of order to a town hall so dysfunctional that its children’s services department was pre-occupied with seeking awards rather than tackling an abuse epidemic involving at least 1,400 youngsters.

As Ms Casey observed: “Bluntly, senior staff in Children’s Social Care know what is wrong but are either incapable of putting it right or lack the will or capacity to do so.” It added that child sex exploitation work is “under-led and poorly-managed” and that “staff are often exhausted, over-loaded and overwhelmed by the scale of the challenge”.

It is that bad, and little progress has been made since Professor Alexis Jay lifted the lid last summer on the scale of the abuse. Moving forward, two things must happen – Rotherham Council’s interim management team must be given time and support to get to grips with an authority which is rotten to the core, and no stone must be left unturned in bringing to justice not just the perpetrators of this appalling abuse, but those who turned a blind eye to the allegations. Nothing less will suffice.

The public interest

An inquiry into the inquiries?

IN AN irony of timing, Sir John Chilcot – the chairman of the Iraq war inquiry – appeared before Parliament on the very same day that Theresa May, the Home Secretary, revealed the identity of the third individual to be asked to head a nationwide inquiry into child sex abuse.

The contradictions were clear to see. While Sir John was being accused of dragging his feet over an investigation that began six years ago, Mrs May has now asked Justice Lowell Goddard, a High Court judge from New Zealand, to head the abuse inquiry after conflicts of interest forced first Baroness Butler-Sloss, and then Fiona Woolf, to step aside.

Yet, if abuse victims hope for an early resolution to allegations about an establishment cover-up to protect paedophiles like the disgraced Jimmy Savile, they’re likely to be disappointed. As Sir John said, his inquiry has taken longer than expected because it would have been remiss of his team not to investigate all the evidence thoroughly.

It is likely to be the same with the child abuse probe; disturbing new allegations are being lodged on a daily basis. Perhaps the time has come for an inquiry into the inquiries so that it does not take so long for the truth to be established, and miscarriages of justice exposed.

What a Balls-up

Labour economical with truth

AT LEAST Ed Balls had the humility to enjoy a laugh at his own expense after failing to remember the name of Bill Thomas, head of Labour’s small business task force, when he appeared on Newsnight – even senior politicians are entitled to the occasional memory lapse.

Yet this electoral gaffe was one of the Shadow Chancellor’s own making. Labour’s economic agenda has come under sustained attack from senior business figures and the Morley and Outwood MP went on television to claim that many industrialists did, in fact, back the party.

It was inevitable that he would be required to name names, which is where Mr Balls came unstuck. He responded by naming Bill who he had been “just talking to a few moments ago” at a dinner. Asked about Bill’s surname, Mr Balls said: “To be honest, the surname has just gone from my head, which is a bit annoying at this time of night.” And so the exchanges went on about “Bill Somebody”.

Hopefully this embarrassing episode will remind politicians to stop being economical with the truth – voters are not fools – and that the next generation of jobs will not be created without a business-friendly economy which rewards enterprise. As David Cameron declared, “Bill Somebody” is not a person – but symptomatic of Labour’s wider approach.