Agenda item

Questions from Members of the Public


(1)  A member of the public referred to Page 110 of the Jay report, which explained in detail the seminar that was held in 2005, which thirty out of sixty three Elected Members attended, on the extent of child sexual exploitation, the people involved how could this Cabinet say that anyone there and on the Council at the time did not know that child sexual exploitation in Rotherham was happening?


The Cabinet Member for Finance, confirmed that he was aware that child sexual exploitation was happening, especially from the seminar that took place.  The seminar also covered the issue of this being a national problem and a specific issue in Rotherham.  This was not considered as large a scale problem was later identified.


At the end of the seminar presenting officers confirmed that steps were being taken to deal with the issues and that the Police were watching particular areas and requested specifically that the information be treated as confidential.  Any information taken from this could disrupt enquires as this was an incredibly difficult area of work in obtaining convictions and that gathering evidence could be prejudiced. 


The Jay Report reflected a lack of trust that people in all agencies were doing their jobs properly.  At the time there were no reasons to suspect that this was the case.  The reassurance was not sufficient and throughout the report areas of failings around Rotherham could be identified.


In a supplementary question the member of the public asked why the relevant Scrutiny Panel did not scrutinise what was happening to ensure that the procedures in place were being done properly.  It was not enough to say that the matters were confidential as the children of this borough were at risk, being raped, being abused and to say that as a Councillor you were not allowed to say anything or would not say anything was unacceptable.


The Chairman advised that those Elected Members, who were not Cabinet Members, who wished to speak would get another opportunity to ask questions.


(2)  A member of the public claimed this was just another example of the bullying that was taking place within the Council in not allowing people to speak (namely other Councillors) because people were unable to express their opinion.   The public were very angry and did not know why all the Councillors had not resigned.


The Chairman said it was not an issue of bullying, but a case of sticking to the Council’s Constitution and the rules and procedures.  Other Councillors would have the same opportunities to ask questions on the report in another forum. The questions today were from members of the public.


(3) A member of the public wished to illustrate how the Members were conducting themselves over a number of years.  He referred to the attitude of Shaun Wright, which was of arrogance and contempt and not becoming of any representative of the public.  Mr. Wright was a Councillor for fourteen years and development of this characteristic came from the Council Chamber.  It was the Chamber that was responsible to the Rotherham public and the attitude of individual Elected Members.   The member of the public had been a former Councillor for eight years and had been fully aware of the problems. 


The member of the public was challenged by other members of the public about his knowledge around child sexual exploitation.


The member of the public referred to three examples, which he wished to illustrate as to what kind of actions took place in the Chamber and went into one particular case in detail.  He wished to make the point that ninety-seven letters had passed between himself and the Council who had still failed to furnish him with a telephone number to the lady to whom he referred.  Little action had been taken by the Council and the lady in question eventually went to the media for action.


He asked should this Council not stand down and resign and let the public re-elect a new Council.


(4)  A member of the public asked about the taxi firms in Rotherham and the children who were currently being cared for by Social Services and being transported by taxi to and from school paid for by the Council.  Why were the taxi journeys not timed and monitored to take children to and from school as children were taken to Manchester.  Children were returning back at 10.00 p.m. at night in school uniforms and why was this not being questioned?


The Strategic Director of Children and Young People’s Services would like to see evidence where this practice was happening.  She was not aware of this personally and any information shared would be checked through the licensing activity to ensure this was dealt with robustly to tackle this head on.


In a supplementary question the member of the public asked if the taxi firms would be looked into.


The Strategic Director of Environment and Development Services confirmed that the Council had very robust procedures in place with contracts for taxi companies and also had safeguarding checks to ensure the people were appropriate and appropriately training.  Any information  or allegations against people behaving inappropriately were investigated and licenses suspended and referred to the Licensing Board so any information was welcomed.


In a supplementary question the member of the public asked in light of the Jay Report how many spot checks had been made on taxi firms and why were checks not made to ensure the young girls arrived to school on time and action taken if they were not.


The Strategic Director of Environment and Development Services confirmed she was not aware of any specific issues.  Regular checks were made on the taxi operators and escorts and also on the standard and quality of vehicles.  The Enforcement Officer in place would ensure that as far as able people accord with the standards.  If evidence was submitted from the public or other organisations then quick and robust action would take place as the protection of young people was the highest priority.


The member of the public reiterated her concerns that matters had been reported to the Police and a blind eye had been turned.  The people in the care homes should be asking questions about the whereabouts of these young people and action taken.  All this information had just been swept under the carpet.


The Chairman asked for any evidence to be passed on after the meeting and this would be dealt with.


(5)  A member of the public asked what the Children and Young People’s Scrutiny Panel scrutinised?


The Chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny Management Board confirmed that reports had been presented, but could not identify any actions or recommendations arising from the reports specifically.  He did offer to look back at the reports submitted and their recommendations because clearly if the reports were not of a quality or standard that Members could understand or take action from them, then action would have been taken.


In a supplementary question, the member of the public asked why after all these years nothing had come from that Scrutiny Panel so it should be disbanded totally.


The Chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny Management Board welcomed the point made, but pointed out that Members of that particular Scrutiny Panel could only act on the information that they had been presented.    Information identified now would indicate that Members were not made sufficiently aware of the true picture.


(6)  A member of the public referred to the report where Section 8.4 identified the failings as being of an ethnic issue.  Section 8.13 stated that nationally, the largest group of offenders came from the white background, whilst Section 8.14 went on to state in Rotherham the largest group was from an Asian background, going on to point out the Pakistani heritage.  At no point did the true fact that they were of the Muslim region come out.  Asian implied a race and camouflaged the truth.  Why was this covered up and why were the cases that have been shelved almost exclusively specifying Muslim offenders, and also of larger groups per case, only actually pursuing offenders of predominantly white backgrounds and single offenders, allowing the groups to continue offending many more times?


The Chief Executive pointed out that the report from Professor Jay looked at evidence and confidential information and presented her conclusions.  The conclusions in the report based on evidence that nationally the widest group of offenders relating to sexual exploitation were white males.  The next largest group were Asian males.  In the context of this particular report and how it related to Rotherham Professor Jay indicated a disproportionate amount of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham which she described as coming from Pakistani heritage and the offender base that was in relation to Rotherham


In a supplementary question the member of the public asked why were there no Pakistani people present at the meeting to try to explain what had happened?


The Chief Executive explained that today’s was a public meeting and everyone was welcome to attend.


(7)   A member of the public asked why there had only been seven arrests so far?


The Chief Executive pointed out the responsibility for the criminal justice system lay with other agencies and everyone was of the same opinion that the perpetrators should be brought to justice.  The Council had written to the Chief Constable in the past and asked for assurances that historic crimes of sexual exploitation were thoroughly investigated and there were a number of live criminal investigations occurring at the moment relating to past crimes and it was hoped that these would be thorough and painstaking resulting in charges and subsequently prosecutions. 


In a supplementary question the member of the public asked if the Councillors wages were really worth and asked that the Members resign.


(8)  A member of the public asked was it a fact that the Councillors were told not to reveal information after the seminar in 2005 to protect the professional services of Rotherham rather than going public?


The Cabinet Member for Finance confirmed that the reason for not revealing information after the seminar was to prevent any alert to perpetrators that could have spoilt those enquiries.  It was not about protecting professional services.


In a supplementary question the member of the public asked did all the Councillors who were present at the seminar have a moral responsibility to their silence and it was noted that some of the Councillors who were at that seminar were not in attendance today.


The Cabinet Member for Finance acknowledged that reading the report the scale of the abuse was devastating and had Elected Members known about the true scale of the abuse and the outcomes, then of course could look back and question whether this was the right thing to do.  The Councillors acted on the advice of what was considered the best interests.  Certain actions arose from the seminar, which was historic and part of a major jigsaw which went on to create the Safeguarding Board, new service department and the too few prosecutions.  The report had pulled together part of that jigsaw and acknowledged that part of the political management was also part of the jigsaw.  There were many aspects to this report and Rotherham by highlighting this report had stood up to alert the nation to a deep and insidious problem.


(9)  A member of the public asked for clarification as to the detail highlighted in paragraph 8.19, particularly the words “manipulation of cultural norms”


The Chief Executive referred to Professor Jay’s report and her points about the greater values placed on the male and female in certain relationships when a more balanced relationship was what was needed.


(10)  A member of the public asked why all the Councillors and officers present were not explaining why the reputation of Rotherham had been damaged along with the young girls’ lives and why this had been allowed to go on for so long?


The Council’s Legal Officer explained how the Executive Procedure Rules governed the way in which this meeting was conducted.  Questions had been asked by members of the public and answered by relevant officers and Elected Members.


(11)  A member of the public asked if any action was to be taken against all the Councillors who did know about what was going and whether they thought more about their salaries than what was happening to the girls?


The Chairman explained that part of the Chief Executive’s report was about referring the actions of Councillors to the relevant Group Whip of a particular political party, which he would be doing.  The Labour Party also suspended four Elected Members yesterday and there were others under investigation.


(12)  A member of the public asked find why it had taken so long for the report by Professor Jay, commissioned by the Chief Executive, for action to be taken when three other reports had already been produced?


The Chairman clarified that the Chief Executive was asked to commission an independent report at the request of the former Leader of the Council.