How the state failed to protect children in Rochdale

Despite Rochdale social services being told that the girls were at risk, they did not intervene.

In August, I reported from Rochdale on the fall-out from the child grooming scandal - in which a gang of child abusers had been allowed to operate unhindered for several years, despite social services and police being aware of its existence.

Today's Guardian has unearthed evidence that backs up claims made in my report. The scale of what they uncovered, via freedom of information requests, is quite shocking: an NHS crisis intervention team that provided sexual health services to vulnerable young people contacted the borough council a total of 83 times between 2004 and 2010 about teenage girls they thought were being abused.

Despite Rochdale social services being told that the girls - some of whom were in care but many who were not - were at risk, they did not intervene. As the town's MP, Simon Danczuk, told me, there was an attitude that the girls were making "life choices" and were choosing to have sex with their abusers.

Greater Manchester Police, too, were slow to act - only bringing a prosecution against members of the gang over two years after an initial complaint was made. Their excuse was that the girls were from "chaotic, council estate" backgrounds, indicating a similar attitude to social services.

When the nine members of the grooming gang were convicted in May 2012, much of the media coverage focused on the fact that they were all of British Pakistani or Afghan origin, and that their victims were white. Earlier this week, the Times reported on similar crimes that took place in Rotherham (£), and a similar catalogue of inaction by agencies that should have been protecting children.

These most recent reports emphasise that whatever the motivations of their abusers, the victims were failed by the state, as a result of assumptions made about their backgrounds and morals. These were the "missed opportunities" acknowledged by Rochdale's Safeguarding Children Board in a report also published today.

Politicians and media commentators who wish to grandstand about "Muslim culture" or "Asian sex gangs" - and there have been plenty - should recognise that in these cases, prejudice exists rather closer to home.

The former Home Secretary Jack Straw has once again waded into the debate, acknowledging the systemic failures, and that the vast majority of sex offenders in Britain are white, but calling once more for the "Asian community" to confront abusers in its midst.

Yet, as Mohammed Shafiq, a youth worker from Rochdale and head of the Ramadhan Foundation, told me:

"The progress is on the street. It’s in the cafés, in the takeaways, with people socialising in the gym. People are talking about this. There has been utter disgust at the crime, and shame that someone from our community has done this, and sympathy for the families who have had to suffer." But, he added: "I think we’ve got a chattering class in London, where anything to do with race, anything to do with working-class people, they rub their hands with glee and decide that they’re going to inflame this. And because they [the abusers] were Asian, because they were Muslim, it just fitted their agenda."

 

A newspaper advertising board outside a corner shop in the Lancashire town of Rochdale after nine men were arrested for child sexual exploitation on January 11, 2011. Photograph: Getty Images

Daniel Trilling is the Editor of New Humanist magazine. He was formerly an Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

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Let's turn RBS into a bank for the public interest

A tarnished symbol of global finance could be remade as a network of local banks. 

The Royal Bank of Scotland has now been losing money for nine consecutive years. Today’s announcement of a further £7bn yearly loss at the publicly-owned bank is just the latest evidence that RBS is essentially unsellable. The difference this time is that the Government seems finally to have accepted that fact.

Up until now, the government had been reluctant to intervene in the running of the business, instead insisting that it will be sold back to the private sector when the time is right. But these losses come just a week after the government announced that it is abandoning plans to sell Williams & Glynn – an RBS subsidiary which has over 300 branches and £22bn of customer deposits.

After a series of expensive delays and a lack of buyer interest, the government now plans to retain Williams & Glynn within the RBS group and instead attempt to boost competition in the business lending market by granting smaller "challenger banks" access to RBS’s branch infrastructure. It also plans to provide funding to encourage small businesses to switch their accounts away from RBS.

As a major public asset, RBS should be used to help achieve wider objectives. Improving how the banking sector serves small businesses should be the top priority, and it is good to see the government start to move in this direction. But to make the most of RBS, they should be going much further.

The public stake in RBS gives us a unique opportunity to create new banking institutions that will genuinely put the interests of the UK’s small businesses first. The New Economics Foundation has proposed turning RBS into a network of local banks with a public interest mandate to serve their local area, lend to small businesses and provide universal access to banking services. If the government is serious about rebalancing the economy and meeting the needs of those who feel left behind, this is the path they should take with RBS.

Small and medium sized enterprises are the lifeblood of the UK economy, and they depend on banking services to fund investment and provide a safe place to store money. For centuries a healthy relationship between businesses and banks has been a cornerstone of UK prosperity.

However, in recent decades this relationship has broken down. Small businesses have repeatedly fallen victim to exploitative practice by the big banks, including the the mis-selling of loans and instances of deliberate asset stripping. Affected business owners have not only lost their livelihoods due to the stress of their treatment at the hands of these banks, but have also experienced family break-ups and deteriorating physical and mental health. Others have been made homeless or bankrupt.

Meanwhile, many businesses struggle to get access to the finance they need to grow and expand. Small firms have always had trouble accessing finance, but in recent decades this problem has intensified as the UK banking sector has come to be dominated by a handful of large, universal, shareholder-owned banks.

Without a focus on specific geographical areas or social objectives, these banks choose to lend to the most profitable activities, and lending to local businesses tends to be less profitable than other activities such as mortgage lending and lending to other financial institutions.

The result is that since the mid-1980s the share of lending going to non-financial businesses has been falling rapidly. Today, lending to small and medium sized businesses accounts for just 4 per cent of bank lending.

Of the relatively small amount of business lending that does occur in the UK, most is heavily concentrated in London and surrounding areas. The UK’s homogenous and highly concentrated banking sector is therefore hampering economic development, starving communities of investment and making regional imbalances worse.

The government’s plans to encourage business customers to switch away from RBS to another bank will not do much to solve this problem. With the market dominated by a small number of large shareholder-owned banks who all behave in similar ways (and who have been hit by repeated scandals), businesses do not have any real choice.

If the government were to go further and turn RBS into a network of local banks, it would be a vital first step in regenerating disenfranchised communities, rebalancing the UK’s economy and staving off any economic downturn that may be on the horizon. Evidence shows that geographically limited stakeholder banks direct a much greater proportion of their capital towards lending in the real economy. By only investing in their local area, these banks help create and retain wealth regionally rather than making existing geographic imbalances worce.

Big, deep challenges require big, deep solutions. It’s time for the government to make banking work for small businesses once again.

Laurie Macfarlane is an economist at the New Economics Foundation