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

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Theresa May’s Brexit speech is Angela Merkel’s victory – here’s why

The Germans coined the word “merkeln to describe their Chancellor’s approach to negotiations. 

It is a measure of Britain’s weak position that Theresa May accepts Angela Merkel’s ultimatum even before the Brexit negotiations have formally started

The British Prime Minister blinked first when she presented her plan for Brexit Tuesday morning. After months of repeating the tautological mantra that “Brexit means Brexit”, she finally specified her position when she essentially proposed that Britain should leave the internal market for goods, services and people, which had been so championed by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. 

By accepting that the “UK will be outside” and that there can be “no half-way house”, Theresa May has essentially caved in before the negotiations have begun.

At her meeting with May in July last year, the German Chancellor stated her ultimatum that there could be no “Rosinenpickerei” – the German equivalent of cherry picking. Merkel stated that Britain was not free to choose. That is still her position.

Back then, May was still battling for access to the internal market. It is a measure of how much her position has weakened that the Prime Minister has been forced to accept that Britain will have to leave the single market.

For those who have followed Merkel in her eleven years as German Kanzlerin there is sense of déjà vu about all this.  In negotiations over the Greek debt in 2011 and in 2015, as well as in her negotiations with German banks, in the wake of the global clash in 2008, Merkel played a waiting game; she let others reveal their hands first. The Germans even coined the word "merkeln", to describe the Chancellor’s favoured approach to negotiations.

Unlike other politicians, Frau Merkel is known for her careful analysis, behind-the-scene diplomacy and her determination to pursue German interests. All these are evident in the Brexit negotiations even before they have started.

Much has been made of US President-Elect Donald Trump’s offer to do a trade deal with Britain “very quickly” (as well as bad-mouthing Merkel). In the greater scheme of things, such a deal – should it come – will amount to very little. The UK’s exports to the EU were valued at £223.3bn in 2015 – roughly five times as much as our exports to the United States. 

But more importantly, Britain’s main export is services. It constitutes 79 per cent of the economy, according to the Office of National Statistics. Without access to the single market for services, and without free movement of skilled workers, the financial sector will have a strong incentive to move to the European mainland.

This is Germany’s gain. There is a general consensus that many banks are ready to move if Britain quits the single market, and Frankfurt is an obvious destination.

In an election year, this is welcome news for Merkel. That the British Prime Minister voluntarily gives up the access to the internal market is a boon for the German Chancellor and solves several of her problems. 

May’s acceptance that Britain will not be in the single market shows that no country is able to secure a better deal outside the EU. This will deter other countries from following the UK’s example. 

Moreover, securing a deal that will make Frankfurt the financial centre in Europe will give Merkel a political boost, and will take focus away from other issues such as immigration.

Despite the rise of the far-right Alternative für Deutschland party, the largely proportional electoral system in Germany will all but guarantee that the current coalition government continues after the elections to the Bundestag in September.

Before the referendum in June last year, Brexiteers published a poster with the mildly xenophobic message "Halt ze German advance". By essentially caving in to Merkel’s demands before these have been expressly stated, Mrs May will strengthen Germany at Britain’s expense. 

Perhaps, the German word schadenfreude comes to mind?

Matthew Qvortrup is author of the book Angela Merkel: Europe’s Most Influential Leader published by Duckworth, and professor of applied political science at Coventry University.