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.

Photo: Getty
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How the row over Jackie Walker triggered a full-blown war in Momentum

Jon Lansman, the organisation's founder, is coming under attack. 

The battle for control within Momentum, which has been brewing for some time, has begun in earnest.

In a sign of the growing unrest within the organisation – established as the continuation of Jeremy Corbyn’s first successful leadership bid, and instrumental in delivering in his re-election -  a critical pamphlet by the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (AWL), a Trotskyite grouping, has made its way into the pages of the Times, with the “unelected” chiefs of Momentum slated for turning the organisation into a “bland blur”.

The issue of contention: between those who see Momentum as an organisation to engage new members of the Labour party, who have been motivated by Jeremy Corbyn but are not yet Corbynites.

One trade unionist from that tendency described what they see the problem as like this: “you have people who have joined to vote for Jeremy, they’re going to meetings, but they’re voting for the Progress candidates in selections, they’re voting for Eddie Izzard [who stood as an independent but Corbynsceptic candidate] in the NEC”.  

On the other are those who see a fightback by Labour’s right and centre as inevitable, and who are trying to actively create a party within a party for what they see as an inevitable purge. One activist of that opinion wryly described Momentum as “Noah’s Ark”.

For both sides, Momentum, now financially stable thanks to its membership, which now stands at over 20,000, is a great prize. And in the firing line for those who want to turn Momentum into a parallel line is Jon Lansman, the organisation’s founder.

Lansman, who came into politics as an aide to Tony Benn, is a figure of suspicion on parts of the broad left due to his decades-long commitment to the Labour party. His major opposition within Momentum and on its ruling executive comes from the AWL.

The removal of Jackie Walker as a vice-chair of Momentum after she said that Holocaust Memorial Day belittled victims of other genocides has boosted the AWL, although the AWL's Jill Mountford, who sits on Momentum's ruling executive, voted to remove Walker as vice-chair. (Walker remains on the NEC, as she has been elected by members). But despite that, the AWL, who have been critical of the process whereby Walker lost her post, have felt the benefit across the country.

Why? Because that battle has triggered a series of serious splits, not only in Momentum’s executive but its grassroots. A raft of local groups have thrown out the local leadership, mostly veterans of Corbyn’s campaign for the leadership, for what the friend of one defeated representative described as “people who believe the Canary [a pro-Corbyn politics website that is regularly accused of indulging and promoting conspiracy theories]”.

In a further series of reverses for the Lansmanite caucus, the North West, a Momentum stronghold since the organisation was founded just under a year ago, is slipping away from old allies of Lansman and towards the “new” left. As one insider put it, the transition is from longstanding members towards people who had been kicked out in the late 1980s and early 1990s by Neil Kinnock. The constituency party of Wallasey in particular is giving senior figures in Momentum headaches just as it is their opponents on the right of the party, with one lamenting that they have “lost control” of the group.

It now means that planned changes to Momentum’s structure, which the leadership had hoped to be rubberstamped by members, now face a fraught path to passage.

Adding to the organisation’s difficulties is the expected capture of James Schneider by the leader’s office. Schneider, who appears widely on television and radio as the public face of Momentum and is well-liked by journalists, has an offer on the table to join Jeremy Corbyn’s team at Westminster as a junior to Seumas Milne.

The move, while a coup for Corbyn, is one that Momentum – and some of Corbyn’s allies in the trade union movement – are keen to resist. Taking a job in the leader’s office would reduce still further the numbers of TV-friendly loyalists who can go on the airwaves and defend the leadership. There is frustration among the leader’s office that as well as Diane Abbott and John McDonnell, who are both considered to be both polished media performers and loyalists, TV bookers turn to Ken Livingstone, who is retired and unreliable, and Paul Mason, about whom opinions are divided within Momentum. Some regard Mason as a box office performer who needs a bigger role, others as a liability.

But all are agreed that Schneider’s expected departure will weaken the media presence of Corbyn loyalists and also damage Momentum. Schneider has spent much of his time not wrangling journalists but mediating in local branches and is regarded as instrumental in the places “where Momentum is working well” in the words of one trade unionist. (Cornwall is regarded as a particular example of what the organisation should be aiming towards)

It comes at a time when Momentum’s leadership is keen to focus both on its external campaigns but the struggle for control in the Labour party. Although Corbyn has never been stronger within the party, no Corbynite candidate has yet prevailed in a by-election, with the lack of available candidates at a council level regarded as part of the problem. Councilors face mandatory reselection as a matter of course, and the hope is that a bumper crop of pro-Corbyn local politicians will go on to form the bulk of the talent pool for vacant seats in future by-elections and in marginal seats at the general election.

But at present, a draining internal battle is sapping Momentum of much of its vitality. But Lansman retains two trump cards. The first is that as well as being the founder of the organisation, he is its de facto owner: the data from Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaigns, without which much of the organisation could not properly run, is owned by a limited company of which he is sole director. But “rolling it up and starting again” is very much the nuclear option, that would further delay the left’s hopes of consolidating its power base in the party.

The second trump card, however, is the tribalism of many of the key players at a local level, who will resist infiltration by groups to Labour’s left just as fiercely as many on the right. As one veteran of both Corbyn’s campaigns reflected: “If those who have spent 20 years attacking our party think they have waiting allies in the left of Labour, they are woefully mistaken”. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.