Sheffield & South Yorkshire

Rotherham child abuse scandal: What next for a council in limbo?

A child in Rotherham Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption An inquiry by Alexis Jay found 1,400 children were abused by gangs of men in Rotherham

A damning report into the Rotherham child sex abuse scandal branded the town's council "not fit for purpose". Its leader has left and confidence in its ability to protect children remains low. Where does the town go from here?

Rotherham Council is in limbo. It is currently without a leader following the resignations in the wake of the Casey report's damning criticism.

It will take at least two weeks for the government to appoint its commissioners to take over and the council has admitted it needs help.

In the meantime, the deputy leader and the interim chief executive are making the decisions.

The council has stressed the day-to-day running of services will not be disrupted. The bins are being emptied, the streets are being cleaned.

But people's faith in the authority has been undoubtedly diminished.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Some residents have started denying they live in the town

They already knew their council was failing to protect young people from abuse. Now they have been shocked by the "culture of denial" and cover up, the lack of action and the skewed sense of political correctness.

People are upset the reputation of their town has been dragged so low by the actions of a small group of abusers and a failure of leadership by a handful of politicians.

Shopkeepers say the town centre is quiet and there are few visitors. Some people even deny they are from Rotherham, telling others they live the other side of the M1 in Sheffield.

A new cabinet, the group of senior councillors in charge, will have to be selected. A new leader must be found.

But their decisions will be subject to approval by the five commissioners who will need to review, from top to bottom, the way services are run.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Commissioners will review the council's services and make it "fit for purpose"

Their priority will be making sure young people are properly protected. They must make the rest of the council "fit for purpose".

When a team was sent in to turn around neighbouring Doncaster Council in 2010, it was four years before local politicians took back control.

The hope is that services in Rotherham can be handed back gradually as they are brought up to standard.

In May 2016 every councillor will face re-election - the fresh start the report states is needed.

Rebuilding reputations and restoring confidence could take much longer.

"Suddenly everyone has heard of Rotherham and they've only heard of it for bad things," said Andrew Blakeley, a social strategist at advertising agency Tribal Worldwide.

Rotherham: Timetable of a scandal

Image copyright Getty Images

September 2012: The Times publishes an investigation revealing that a confidential 2010 police report had warned thousands of child sexual exploitation crimes were being committed in South Yorkshire each year by networks of Asian men.

August 2014: Professor Alexis Jay's report into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham is published, revealing that up to 1,400 young girls had been exploited.

September 2014: South Yorkshire's Police and Crime Commissioner Shaun Wright resigns. Mr Wright was head of children's services in Rotherham between 2005 and 2010.

November 2014: The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) says it is to investigate 10 South Yorkshire Police officers over the handling of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham.

February 2015: A report by Louise Casey says Rotherham Council is "not fit for purpose" prompting Eric Pickles to announce plans to hand control of the council to a team of five commissioners.

Rotherham abuse victims tell their stories

Read more about key points in the scandal

Mr Blakeley is proud to be from the town and even though he now works in London, he's set up a Twitter account, @UnitedRotherham, to share positive stories.

"If you want to change people's perception about a brand or a product you have to appeal to their emotions, you can't just present them with rational argument or facts, you have to move them," he said.

"For me, Rotherham needs to tell all the positive human stories that real people are living day to day to make the town a better place.

"It's a long and difficult slog to turn around such negativity."

Mr Blakeley is hopeful a new generation of motivated local leaders will emerge from the anger of the current mess and offer a better future.

It's not just the council that has let people down. The police and other agencies have questions to answer too. There are more investigations to be concluded. Criminal charges could follow.

And amid all the calls for accountability and improvement the victims must not be forgotten. They want justice. They also want reassurance that it can never happen again.

The road ahead is long and challenging. Much is still to be worked out. Rotherham's rehabilitation is only just beginning.

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