Richard North, 06/02/2015  

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If you're going to have any chance of fixing a problem, you first have to make an attempt to understand it. That is the essence of problem solving – so much so that there are few things more certain to guarantee failure than to act on a misdiagnosis, or incomplete analyses.

Despite this, when it comes to the Rotherham "grooming" scandal, the likes of the Commentator, followed by the Telegraph and, predictably, the Mail choose to attribute the situation to "political correctness".

Yet, to say the very least, support for this thesis is slender, the papers relying mainly on the Casey report into child abuse in Rotherham MDC, where it tells us that: "The Council's culture is unhealthy: bullying, sexism, suppression and misplaced 'political correctness' have cemented its failures". Effectively, though, that only tells us that "political correctness" was a "cement", alongside all the other factors that catapulted Rotherham into the media limelight.

This, therefore, must be seen in the broader context of all the other factors set out in the 154-page report, based on investigations carried out under the control of Louise Casey since 1 October 2014.

What she says about Rotherham is that it was in denial about serious and on-going safeguarding failures. It displayed an archaic culture of sexism, bullying and discomfort around race and had completely failed to address past weaknesses, in particular in children's social care.

The Council had weak and ineffective arrangements for taxi licensing which leave the public at risk; ineffective leadership and management, including political leadership; no shared vision, a partial management team and ineffective liaisons with partners. And all of this was reinforced by a culture of covering up uncomfortable truths, silencing whistle-blowers and paying off staff rather than dealing with difficult issues.

The interesting thing is that Casey was specifically asked, during her investigations, to determine whether the local authority "was and continues to be subject to institutionalised political correctness, affecting its decision-making on sensitive issues", yet she does not include this as a factor in her coruscating summary of the failures of the Council.

In the report, she writes that "the responsibility for the abuse that took place in Rotherham lies firmly with the vile perpetrators, many of whom have not yet faced justice for what they have done". But, she says, both today and in the past, Rotherham has at times taken more care of its reputation than it has its of its most needy:
Child abuse and exploitation happens all over the country, but Rotherham is different in that it was repeatedly told by its own youth service what was happening and it chose, not only to not act, but to close that service down. This is important because it points to how it has dealt with uncomfortable truths put before it.
Whatever else one might say of the situation, therefore, on the basis of this official report, it cannot be fairly or accurate said that the heart of the problem was "political correctness". The failings, Casey says, "rest on the collective responsibility of the Council's political and managerial leadership as a whole. Through their action or inaction, many senior managers and Councillors have allowed failings to persist over long periods of time".

This is actually the point that many pundits are missing. One can allow all sorts of motivations for individual episodes of child abuse, and pick out individual and group failings that allowed such episodes to happen. But the crucial thing is the longevity of the abuse, and the refusal to do anything about it, long after it had become publicly known.

Interestingly, The Times focuses on this longevity. As early as 2010, it says, there was good evidence of organised gangs of mainly Pakistani men in Rotherham grooming and raping dozens and possibly hundreds of teenage white girls, and had been for more than a decade. Furthermore, this was picked up by the national media. Currently, the Mail is pointing this out, but others in the field were the BBC and the Independent which did detailed comment pieces on the issue.

At the time, Derby was in the frame as well, with Derbyshire Police warning that instances of abuse were a growing problem in the UK. Other episodes of gangs operating were in Rochdale, Bristol, Oxford and Telford, but – as The Times remarks - it was only in Rotherham that evidence of a systematic problem was ignored.

Crucially, instead of action, we got a culture of denial. In September 2012, The Times published an investigation revealing that a confidential police report had warned thousands of child sexual exploitation crimes were being committed in South Yorkshire by networks of Asian men. Yet, turning aside the opportunity to carry out a thorough investigation, some councillors rejected the details "were first reported in a newspaper assumed wrongly to be a political enemy of a Labour-run council".

If we then go to the first of the most recent official reports, the  Jay report, commissioned in the wake of The Times's revelations, we find that, from the beginning of the inquiry period in 1997, there was growing evidence that child sexual exploitation (CSE) was a serious problem in Rotherham.

Initially, Jay finds, the scale and seriousness of the problem was underplayed by senior managers. At an operational level, the Police gave no priority to CSE, regarding many child victims with contempt and failing to act on their abuse as a crime. Further stark evidence came in 2002, 2003 and 2006 with three reports known to the Police and the Council, which could not have been clearer in their description of the situation in Rotherham. 

The first of these reports was effectively suppressed because some senior officers disbelieved the data it contained. The other two reports set out the links between child sexual exploitation and drugs, guns and criminality in the Borough. These reports were ignored and no action was taken to deal with the issues that were identified in them. Then, as the litany of dereliction continued, we come to one key paragraph, which tells us:
By far the majority of perpetrators were described as "Asian" by victims, yet throughout the entire period, councillors did not engage directly with the Pakistani-heritage community to discuss how best they could jointly address the issue. Some councillors seemed to think it was a one-off problem, which they hoped would go away. Several staff described their nervousness about identifying the ethnic origins of perpetrators for fear of being thought racist; others remembered clear direction from their managers not to do so.
Perhaps on this basis a charge of "political correctness" might survive (not that one is made in this report). And indeed, there was a "general nervousness" about discussing the issues for fear of being thought racist. But, but only in "the earlier years", and could only explain the slowness of the initial response.

Eventually, though, the racial issue was addressed. Good work, the report says, was done by officers in developing a protocol on child protection issues in the mosques in 2008. Each mosque appointed a designated person responsible for child protection, and training was provided for imams and others.

In other words, the racial dimension was recognised and the Muslim community was approached through the appropriate channels. But, the report found, although the current chair of the Rotherham Council of Mosques demonstrated a "strong personal commitment" to dealing with child protection and CSE, he was "disappointed" not to have had any contact from the Council's Safeguarding Board set up to deal with child grooming.

In two separate posts, therefore, Compleat Bastard comes to the very obvious conclusion that "political correctness" cannot be the primary driver of this affair.  Instead, we are dealing with something that is wearily familiar across the entire spectrum of local authority activity. The Rotherham affair is another rank example of municipal dereliction.

Quintessentially,  to come to that conclusion, we have to deal with not just the nature of events, but their scale and duration, and the multiple opportunities the Council had to deal with them, which they failed to take up.

Those are the issues here. That is what makes Rotherham special and lifts it into a league of its own. And Casey acknowledges this. Rotherham is different, she says. Many local authorities have had problems with Asian gangs, and grooming. There were multiple failures at all levels, not only in Rotherham but in Rochdale and elsewhere, especially at official level by social workers and the police. But only in Rotherham have there been so many reports, so much evidence of failure over so long a time, and so many opportunities to put things right, where so many senior politicians have failed to get a grip and take charge.

Thus, although many want to turn this into a race issue, or pursue an anti-Muslim agenda, the Muslim communities are the fall guys for municipal dereliction here, perpetrated at the highest political level in the borough.

What started off as small scale criminality could have been nipped in the bud a long time ago, if the local authority officials and the police had been on the ball. But the escalation, the longevity and the failed opportunities to put things right does put this in a league of its own, with the buck stopping at the politicians who failed so many times to intervene.

As for the CSE problem, it is not even as if we are on our own. No fault, per se, can be attributed to local authorities just because it happens in their districts.  Multiple websites make it clear that this is a global problem. The top five countries named are Sri Lanka, Thailand, Brazil, the United States and Canada.  In the United States alone, it is estimated that at least 100,000 children are used as prostitutes each year, as part of the $9.8 billion sex trafficking industry. Even the FBI is struggling to cope with the scale of the problem.

Furthermore, this is a problem that spans all races, communities and religions. It happens in entirely different countries with different administrations. It is a problem with complex aetiology and a long, ugly history. Linked closely with child pornography, in the UK it is still perpetrated mainly by while males, who often go unpunished for their part in child exploitation.

In fact, so complex is the subject that only racist zealots such as Nick Griffin, have easy answers. Back in 2012, he was content to say that: "The mass street grooming of young girls from the English community is only being carried out by Muslims. All the paedophile groomers in this particular sort of crime – on the street, in gangs – are Muslims. That's the common denominator".

"You only have to read the Koran or look at the Hadith – the expressions of what the Prophet did in his life – to see where Muslim paedophilia comes from", he continued. "Because it's religiously justified so long as it's other people's children and not their own".

Startlingly, between this and the more extreme Ukip rhetoric, there is not even a fag paper. The Griffin line has been adopted almost to the letter. This is not so much "BNP-lite" as BNP replacement, naked in tooth and claw.

Others have their own personal axes to grind, whether it is social workers, police or any other culpable groups. But to repeat what Casey said, the failings "rest on the collective responsibility of the Council's political and managerial leadership as a whole. Through their action or inaction, many senior managers and Councillors have allowed failings to persist over long periods of time".

That it persisted for so long, in the face of so much evidence, boils down to a failure of the local government, one of many that parades litanies of failures across the board. There may be special factors to do with social services, but the essential issue is that local government has failed once again.

For decades now, criticism of the failures of local government has abounded, and especially of these "rotten" Labour boroughs in the north - a by-word for corruption, inefficiency and unresponsiveness.

Likewise, the police forces - South Yorkshire amongst them, thugs in uniform - racist, inefficient, corrupt and medacious ... Hillsborough stadium anyone? Did the police then treat football fans with any more respect? And was "multiculturalism" at fault there?

So, when confronted with a complex, multi-agency problem such as child sexual exploitation, it comes as absolutely no surprise that they get it wrong. There were perhaps factors in Rotherham that made it a bigger problem than elsewhere, but the fact is that the lacklustre response and the attempts at cover-up are absolutely typical of local government in the region.

People either have short memories, or they are so locked into their narrative that they're not thinking straight, or at all. In quantum terms, there is little different between the behaviour of Rotherham and Doncaster in the "Donnygate" scandal.

There, the issues were different, but we saw the same corruption, inefficiency and unresponsiveness in another Labour fiefdom where democracy takes a back seat, that eventually ended up in the council having to be taken over. Plus ça change ...

In the final analysis, the buck stops with the politicians - locally and nationally. Locally, they've failed and they've been replaced. Now we must look at the system defects that allowed events to happen, and to persist for so long, unchecked. Pinning it all on "political correctness" doesn't even begin to cut it.

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