We can’t feel proud to live here

I DRAW the attention of Rotherham residents, every RMBC councillor of whatever political party and every RMBC leader and senior manager to the following two documents that are in the public domain — section four of the RMBC draft Annual Governance Statemen

The AGS states how effective RMBC’s internal controls have been in delivering its services to Rotherham residents in accordance with the law and proper standards; ensuring their hard earned cash has been safeguarded and brought to proper account; and, ensuring that hard earned cash has been used economically, efficiently and effectively.

Quoting directly from the council’s own AGS document which includes reference to the Jay, Ofsted and Casey Reports (all of which RMBC accepted in full): in 2014/15 councillors, leaders and senior managers delivered to Rotherham residents, and the people at the front-line delivering those services poor leadership and a lack of vision; lack of transparency; inability to address past weaknesses; lack of robust scrutiny; failure to face up to uncomfortable truths; failed accountability; weak partnerships and community strategy; a culture of denial; a focus on reputation rather than quality of services; an absence of self-challenge; absence of strategic, financial management; poor standards and conduct; not translating strategy into action; inadequate children’s social care; failure to hold partners, particularly police, to account; taxi licensing which failed to protect people; inconsistent performance management and reporting; collective failures of political and officer leadership in addressing the crime of CSE

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; poor understanding of the scale of the CSE problem in spite of some improvements through the dedication of resources to CSE and better partnership working; an absence of good risk assessment in too many cases in children's social care etc; CSE team still struggling to keep pace with its workload; not enough long term support for victims; weaknesses in leadership, management and governance and social care practice; widespread or serious failures that resulted in children being harmed or at risk of harm; failure as corporate parents to safeguard and promote the welfare of looked-after children and care leavers; leaders and managers not able to demonstrate sufficient understanding of failures; leaders and managers ineffective in prioritising, challenging and making improvements.  

Delivery of that litany of failures cost Rotherham residents and tax payers, £1,054,380 in councillor expenses and allowances plus, heaven knows how much in leader and senior manager salaries and bonuses; and plus, a yet to be determined amount for compensating CSE victims who were so hideously let down by RMBC.

How can anyone, by any stretch of the imagination, conclude RMBC conducted RMBC business to proper standards and used residents and tax payers hard earned cash economically, efficiently and effectively? If 2014/15 wasn’t bad enough, the council’s external auditors, KPMG have also been unable to sign-off RMBC’s 2013/14 Accounts as an economic, efficient, effective use of rate and tax payers' money.

None of the RMBC councillors of any political party, none of the RMBC leader or senior manager in post prior to April 2015 can say they weren’t aware and are not responsible for these failures. There was enough evidence and warnings from reports, papers, meetings, whistle blowers, CSE victims and their families, and the media.

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Turning now to the appointment of the five commissioners to develop and deliver a desperately needed Rotherham Improvement Plan, to ensure RMBC services are delivered to proper standards and that people’s hard-earned council and general taxes are used economically, efficiently and effectively, what do we expect? RMBC councillors and leaders, by their own admission, are unable to recognise and remedy their failings and deliver improvements without external intervention.

In spite of the Jay report being published in September, Ofsted’s report in November and numerous calls by CSE victims, Sarah Champion MP and the public, they’ve been exceedingly slow to personally meet with and involve CSE victims and their families. Is that an appropriate, effective response to a disaster affecting 1400 children?

We have needed the commissioners to get to grips with really sorting out with real urgency the failed taxi licensing system, to get to grips with the real enormity of the improvement task faced in Children’s Services, to get to grips with really improving RMBC’s audit and governance and etc.

If it costs Rotherham residents £800 a day for Sir Derek and £400/500 a day for each of the other four commissioners to get those jobs done right, speedily, efficiently and economically and to lick existing and any would-be councillors and leaders into shape, it’s money well spent. It’s a crying shame and a gross waste of residents’ hard earned cash that it was allowed to get to this sorry, sorry state and that so many people, children and their families were allowed to be so very badly let down.

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The big lessons in all of this are 1) it costs a darn sight more (rule of thumb is 10 times) to put things right than it costs to do them right in the first place; 2) the truth will come out eventually; 3) if different people keeps telling you something isn’t right, then it’s highly likely to have something wrong with it; 4) if it walks like a duck, looks like a duck and sounds like a duck, there’s a 99 per cent chance it is a duck; 5) first rule when you’re in a hole, is ‘stop digging’; 4) it’s much harder to get out of a hole than it is to fall in it. That’s not rocket science: it’s simple common sense, as plain as the nose on your face.

As for the 2016 councillor elections, isn’t it right that existing and would-be councillors are aware of and have the same understanding of the proper standards and requirements of the job?

Isn’t it right that voters should be aware of all of this factual information to measure existing and prospective councillors against? Isn’t that, not a reliance on party and candidate literature and local political parties to do the job for them, what voter engagement and democracy in action is all about?  

Meantime, can we stop the political back-biting, ducking and diving and petty minded point scoring, and can we all get on with acknowledging that we are all where we are, and all councillors, leaders, managers, residents, businesses, faith and voluntary groups etc get on with pull together with the commissioners to get the right things done right as quickly, economically, efficiently and effectively as possible so we can all benefit from and feel proud to live Rotherham.