GOVERNMENT officials look set to play a role in the running of Rotherham Council for at least two more years despite more powers returning to the hands of councillors.
Local Government Secretary Sajid Javid confirmed licensing will be the latest area of responsbility to be handed back to Rotherham councillors.
However, the Government-appointed commissioners sent in to run the authority last year will continue to “oversee” the decisions they take in this area until March 2019.
Mr Javid’s predecessor, Eric Pickles, identified March 2019 as the end point for the Government’s intervention in Rotherham when he first appointed the commissioners.
The authority’s progress had led some in Rotherham Council to hope the commissioners could be withdrawn ahead of that date but the latest announcement appears to rule that out.
Commissioners were sent into to run Rotherham Council last year following a damning report by an inspector sent in following revelations about the authority’s failure to deal with child sexual exploitation in the town.
The return of licensing powers means child protection, elderly care, environment and regeneration are the areas where commissioners remain in charge.
Rotherham Council leader Chris Read, who took over in the aftermath of the criticism which engulfed the authority, said: “This is welcome news and is a testament to the strength of the work undertaken by the council over the last 20 months, alongside commissioners, to deliver necessary improvements.
“We’ve lots more to do but it’s a big step in the right direction, for the council and for Rotherham.”
The Government said Rotherham’s reforms to licensing had raised the bar for other councils across the country.
Mr Javid said: “I consider this phased approach to be the best way to return powers to elected councillors as soon as is practically possible, while at the same time ensuring that the failings of the past are not repeated.”
Rotherham Council’s failures on licensing, particularly of taxis, were a key feature of the 2014 Jay report on child sexual exploitation in the town.
Professor Alexis Jay’s report noted the “prominent role of taxi drivers” was a common thread in child sexual exploitation and “this was the case in Rotherham from a very early stage”.
Reforms introduced in Rotherham include the fitting of audio and video recording equipment in taxis and enhanced fit and proper person tests for drivers.
Drivers and councillors have also undergone additional training.