TORY allegations of inaction on child sexual exploitation will be reviewed by the Rotherham Safeguarding Children’s Partnership.
A motion from opposition councillors to a full council meeting — where three councillors talked about their own experiences of abuse — claimed responses to reported incidents had been poor, leading to a lack of confidence in reporting.
The council’s ruling Labour group amended the motion to be sent to the partnership’s independent chairman for review.
Conservative councillors said the move — requiring a report within three months — was shifting CSE “behind closed doors”.
But they still backed the amended motion, which Labour said would take the matter away from “political mischief making”.
During an emotional debate, Tory group leader Cllr Emily Barley and Labour cabinet member Cllr Denise Lelliott revealed publicly that they are abuse survivors, while Cllr Eve Rose Keenan cited the abuse ordeal she divulged when she was mayor.
Cllr Barley, proposing the motion last Wednesday (10), called for more training for council staff and contractors to recognise possible CSE; a public information campaign; a “proper” apology and more individualised support.
She added: “The reality is that there are some members of council staff who feel they can’t speak up about CSE when they see it.”
Cllr Jill Thompson, seconding, said an officer had referred to CSE in a video training session as a “past trauma” of Rotherham.
She added: “I have been disgusted by the poor processes and dismissive responses by both organisations to reports of possible CSE. They are not doing enough. Members of the community don’t report anything any more because they have been ignored in the past.”
RMBC leader Cllr Chris Read said improving social care had been the council’s top priority for the last seven years, with £20 million more spent a year now.
He also pointed to the Barnardo’s Reach Out programme engaging with youngsters, the Evolve team including South Yorkshire Police, and support for more than 1,000 survivors from council-commissioned services.
There had formerly been a very acute problem with men of Pakistani heritage, which had been seized upon by the far-right media, he added.
“As a result, some people still think CSE means Asian grooming gangs, and the whole Asian community has suffered as a result,” he added, when the truth was that perpetrators are predominantly white, British men, often with familial connections to victims.
“When I read in a press release that we’re not doing anything, I don’t know how you can claim that,” said Cllr Read. “You can’t go through what we have lived through and be complacent.”
Cllr Keenan — seconding Labour’s amendment — cited her own experience as a survivor and said she wanted to convince four others who had contacted her in the previous week that they would be heard on reporting abuse.
She added: “If nothing else is taken from this debate, to those four young women, and anyone else: you will be listened to.”
Cllr Barley said the amendment showed the council burying their “heads in the sand”, while fellow Tory Cllr Timothy Baum-Dixon said it showed RMBC pushing CSE “behind closed doors”.
Conservative colleague Cllr Greg Reynolds suggested that their motion should be something the whole council should unite to back in order to “lance the boil that has cast a shadow internationally across Rotherham”.
And Lib Dem group leader Cllr Adam Carter said Labour’s “weakening” of the motion was “unthinkable”.
Independent Cllr Michael Bennett-Sylvester questioned the “cynical motives” behind the timing of the motion — published the day before purdah began for next month’s two by-elections.
Labour’s Cllr Tony Griffin, a former child safeguarding manager, described the report accompanying the motion as an “ill-informed kick in the teeth” which he would probably have concluded was “political mischief-making” during his officer days. Cllr Barley said details were kept to a minimum to avoid identification or jeopardising investigations.
The Labour amendment passed, 31 votes to 21, after which the motion was approved unanimously.
There are currently 40 children believed to be at risk of CSE and 34 active police investigations, the meeting heard.