The Government has closed down ‘dysfunctional’ Rotherham Council until an election can be held in 2016, with all powers currently held by the council’s Cabinet to be transferred to Commissioners answerable to the Secretary of State for Local Government.
Eric Pickles made the announcement at the House of Commons today, after Rotherham was shown to have failed to protect children from being sexually abused by organised gangs from the town’s Kashmiri Pakistani community.
The Council has fourteen days to write to Pickles should they wish to object to the plan to bring in the five commissioners. He said he was taking the steps because the council was “seriously failing the people of Rotherham, and particularly the most vulnerable”.
Pickles said that he was minded to appoint the commissioners to replace the “wholly dysfunctional cabinet”. This means that all executive power currently held by democratically elected councillors would pass to the appointed officials if he presses ahead, which is all but guaranteed.
In forcing the council to accept a full ‘all out’ election of councillors in 2016 he claimed he would restore “pride” and “local accountability” to the borough. This is likely to make UKIP a serious contender to win the council, but in any case it is now unlikely democracy will be restored until that election is successfully completed.
Pickles claimed the current council leadership was opposed to democracy as it regularly cracked down on whistleblowers. He said senior managers had created an “unhealthy climate where people are afraid to speak out because they have seen the consequences for those who do.” Pickles said his plan would “put an end to the councils on going failure” and to “restore good local governance to Rotherham”.
Hilary Benn for Labour said it was time for Rotherham to “accept the truth” that they had failed to protect children. He said the “process of healing” could not take place until that happened. During the debate the Rotherham Cabinet announced they would all resign.
Rotherham Council was exposed as having failed to protect as many as 2000 victims from Muslim grooming gangs. They stand accused of refusing to stop the abuse of young white girls by Muslim men for fear of being accused of racism.