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Local Government Update

Volume 645: debated on Monday 23 July 2018

Professor Alexis Jay’s report (2014) into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham and Louise Casey’s follow up report (2015) exposed the serious systemic failures by Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council to protect vulnerable children from sexual exploitation.

In response, the then Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and the then Secretary of State for Education took immediate action to protect the children of Rotherham. In February 2015, they appointed commissioners to take over all of the authority’s executive, and some of the non-executive, functions and drive a programme of improvement.

With the support of commissioners, the council has made steady and significant progress in its improvement journey. As a result, my predecessors were able to return functions to the council on four separate occasions: 11 February 2016, 13 December 2016, 21 March 2017 and 12 September 2017.

In her recent progress reports (February and May 2018) and letter (21 March 2018), lead commissioner Mary Ney has recommended that the intervention in Rotherham can now be concluded: “the political and senior officer leadership of Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council is able to function and continue its improvement without the need of Commissioner oversight.”

The evidence provided to support these recommendations, includes the report of the independent health check, which was undertaken in February 2018 and supported by the Local Government Association. Furthermore, in January 2018 Ofsted rated Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council’s children’s services as ‘good’.

As this is a joint intervention with the Department for Education, together with the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), I have carefully considered the evidence put forward by commissioners. We have also met with them to discuss their recommendation in more detail. In addition, we have also met the Leader and Chief Executive of Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council in person and received assurances from them that they are confident the council is now in a position to drive forward and deliver its own improvement agenda.

As a result of this robust evidence provided by commissioners and the positive conversations with the council, I am pleased to announce that I am minded to exercise my powers under section 15 of the Local Government Act 1999 to revoke the Direction of 26 February 2015 as amended, and remove commissioners from the council and hand back the remaining executive functions to the council.

However, I am mindful that the decision to hand back the remaining functions, particularly children’s services, is a significant one. Therefore, I am also announcing that I am minded to put a new Direction in place which requires Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council to undertake an independent review before 31 March 2019 when the new Direction expires. This will enable a last check of the council’s performance once the commissioners have left.

I am inviting the council to make representations on these proposals, which will be considered as part of my final decision.

We are determined to protect children from harm, and we will do everything we can to prevent this from happening again—either in Rotherham or elsewhere. Government Departments are working collectively to ensure that the National Crime Agency’s Operation Stovewood, and victims of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham, have the support that they need. The Home Secretary has written recently to Rotherham and the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner confirming Government’s commitment to working closely with Rotherham over the coming years to assess the demand on services, to encourage as many victims as possible to come forward and to provide support—financial and otherwise—where it is appropriate to do so. To date, the Home Office has provided £12.4 million of police special grant funding towards Operation Stovewood. The Department for Education is providing additional funding of up to £2 million to Rotherham’s children’s social care services, over the four year period 2017-21, for additional social workers to work with children in need of support as identified through Operation Stovewood. The Ministry of Justice has provided £1.6 million to the Police and Crime Commissioner to commission additional services locally and also committed around £549,000 extra funding to provide specialist support, including for the provision of Independent Sexual Violence Advisers. NHS England has worked with regional Health and Justice Commissioners and partners to reconfigure existing resources to support victims in Rotherham, providing £500,000 from 2018 to 2020 to support the sustainability of this project.

I am placing a copy of the documents associated with these announcements in the Library of the House and on my Department’s website.