The Rotherham scandal shows council officers' failure to combat child abuse. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Local government and Ofsted must do more to tackle child abuse

Child abuse is a cancer in our society and one that we can no longer treat with light touch regulation.

For over a decade now local government scrutiny committees have been quietly going about their business of reviewing council policy. Much too quietly it would appear, as on plenty of occasions they should have been screaming blue murder.

Established by the Local Government Act 2000, scrutiny committees perform a vital service – yet it’s time we faced up to the fact that in too many cases they’re just not doing their job.

That was clearly evident in Rotherham where child protection failings went unnoticed – and yesterday’s report by the Communities and Local Government Select Committee, of which I’m a member, is a reminder of the untold damage that results from poor scrutiny.

When we interviewed senior Rotherham Council officers earlier this year it was obvious that they had not been subject to the kind of scrutiny necessary to raise the alarm on chronic child protection failings that saw at least 1,400 children subject to appalling sexual exploitation over a 16-year period.

In my own constituency of Rochdale the same failure to properly scrutinize child protection services was evident when a major grooming scandal exploded in 2012. When council officers sat before MPs on the Home Affairs Select Committee shortly afterwards their failure to understand the severity of the problem was painfully obvious.

In both cases it was clear that parliament did a far better job of holding council officers to account than their own scrutiny committees. So why is this? In my constituency I was told that senior officers often declined to attend and sent junior officers in their place. Councillors were reliant on officers to tell them about the policy areas they were supposed to be holding them to account on. And questioning was far from robust. It was more of a tick box exercise.

The same timid approach to child abuse and failure to properly hold child protection agencies to account has been demonstrated by Ofsted. The regulator has a poor record in this area, failing to identify serious child protection failings across the country.

Recent plans drawn up by Ofsted to add child abuse inspections to a handful of councils in areas where there have been child sexual abuse convictions is simply a case of trying to close the stable door after the horse has bolted.

If we’re really going to tackle this problem is it good enough that only a handful of authorities are subject to a thematic review inspection on how they deal with child abuse? The idea that inspectors should only try and find out where failings occurred after a major scandal breaks is risible. Ofsted should be conducting this kind of specialist inspection everywhere to make sure children are being protected.

But arguably the real reason why scrutiny remains poor where child protection services and child sexual abuse is concerned is because politicians have yet to wake up to the huge social cost that it creates.

Child abuse is not just a horrible headline or a distasteful tale that we can turn away from and ignore, knowing it will not impact on our lives. I’ve seen how child abuse impacts on wider society in terms of the myriad problems it creates. It’s extremely far reaching. And I’ve seen how it impacts on public services.

Whether it’s through pressure on mental health and other NHS services, the prisons service, police, social services and other agencies besides, child abuse not only destroys lives but costs the public purse too. When child abuse is committed on a large scale it leaves behind a trail of chaos. It puts huge pressure on services and strips people of their dignity and sometimes pushes them to the margins of society.  It is a cancer in our society and one that we can no longer treat with light touch regulation. Protective services and regulators need to do far more to stop it spreading.

Simon Danczuk is Labour MP for Rochdale and his book, Smile for the Camera: The Double Life of Cyril Smith, came out earlier this year, published by Biteback Publishing

Simon Danczuk is MP for Rochdale.

Getty
Show Hide image

Commons Confidential: Dave's picnic with Dacre

Revenge is a dish best served cold from a wicker hamper.

Sulking David Cameron can’t forgive the Daily Mail editor, Paul Dacre, for his role in his downfall. The unrelenting hostility of the self-appointed voice of Middle England to the Remain cause felt pivotal to the defeat. So, what a glorious coincidence it was that they found themselves picnicking a couple of motors apart before England beat Scotland at Twickenham. My snout recalled Cameron studiously peering in the opposite direction. On Dacre’s face was the smile of an assassin. Revenge is a dish best served cold from a wicker hamper.

The good news is that since Jeremy Corbyn let Theresa May off the Budget hook at Prime Minister’s Questions, most of his MPs no longer hate him. The bad news is that many now openly express their pity. It is whispered that Corbyn’s office made it clear that he didn’t wish to sit next to Tony Blair at the unveiling of the Iraq and Afghanistan war memorial in London. His desire for distance was probably reciprocated, as Comrade Corbyn wanted Brigadier Blair to be charged with war crimes. Fighting old battles is easier than beating the Tories.

Brexit is a ticket to travel. The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority is lifting its three-trip cap on funded journeys to Europe for MPs. The idea of paying for as many cross-Channel visits as a politician can enjoy reminds me of Denis MacShane. Under the old limits, he ended up in the clink for fiddling accounts to fund his Continental missionary work. If the new rule was applied retrospectively, perhaps the former Labour minister should be entitled to get his seat back and compensation?

The word in Ukip is that Paul Nuttall, OBE VC KG – the ridiculed former Premier League professional footballer and England 1966 World Cup winner – has cold feet after his Stoke mauling about standing in a by-election in Leigh (assuming that Andy Burnham is elected mayor of Greater Manchester in May). The electorate already knows his Walter Mitty act too well.

A senior Labour MP, who demanded anonymity, revealed that she had received a letter after Leicester’s Keith Vaz paid men to entertain him. Vaz had posed as Jim the washing machine man. Why, asked the complainant, wasn’t this second job listed in the register of members’ interests? She’s avoiding writing a reply.

Years ago, this column unearthed and ridiculed the early journalism of George Osborne, who must be the least qualified newspaper editor in history. The cabinet lackey Ben “Selwyn” Gummer’s feeble intervention in the Osborne debate has put him on our radar. We are now watching him and will be reporting back. My snouts are already unearthing interesting information.

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 23 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump's permanent revolution