The buck stops with the the Mayor and the Labour Party as to why the questions raised in today’s Rotherham report and its implications for Liverpool were not investigated properly after the first Rotherham report
So today we have the long-awaited report into the actions of Rotherham Council and its officers during almost two decades when there were serious child abuse problems in that Town. In fact, there were 6 reports but only one concerns Liverpool because it is about the senior Officers of the Council post 2,000 and, of course, our Chief Executive Ged Fitz Gerald was one of them.
The report is highly disturbing and shows a situation in which for a long period of time senior managers at the Council either:
- Knew about the serious problems in the Borough and did nothing about them; or
- Did not know about the problems and should have done
Below this are some extracts from the Executive Summary to the report which I think are important for the people of Liverpool to know. I have tried to be impartial in my selection of these quotes and be fair to all concerned but in case you think that I have been biased you can see the Executive Summary and the full report which can both be downloaded, on the website of Rotherham Council. I have highlighted in bold italics the parts that I think are crucial.
“The preparation of this report was hampered by two key factors: the first was that a number of former senior officers chose not to engage with the process (and cannot be compelled to do so); and the second was that some of the contemporaneous documentation we had hoped to review was limited or now appeared to be missing despite the best efforts of the Council to try and track it down.
Ultimately the senior officers who were responsible for ensuring that the Council met its duty to respond to CSE were the Chief Executive and the relevant Directors and senior managers in Education, Culture and Leisure and Social Services/Children’s Services across the Relevant Period”.
“We have summarised our findings in relation to the individuals who filled these key roles at the Council across the Relevant Period. We have not found evidence to support any notion that any individual ‘turned a blind eye’ to CSE in Rotherham. But neither is there much evidence of ‘inquiring minds’ or a purposive approach when evidence of what was happening did come to their attention.
As the ‘Head of Paid Service’ the Chief Executives did not have lead operational responsibility for the work of the directorates. None of them had nor should be expected to have had, day-to-day oversight of the many projects and initiatives that officers would be working on across the Council. However, Chief Executives do have ultimate responsibility for the coordination of the Council’s functions, and for allocating resources to meet specific circumstances when they come to their attention”.
“The work of the Risky Business project had, however, come to the attention of Mr Fitzgerald by late 2001. He had contact with senior Police officers and met with senior managers about specific issues relevant to a pilot project, connected with the Home Office, concerning matters we would now recognise as CSE in Rotherham. There is little evidence available about who else was involved in those meetings, the discussions they had, or any actions identified by or taken by or at the behest of Mr Fitzgerald, as a result of his involvement. Mr Fitzgerald recalls that events were ‘downplayed’ and he did not raise the issue with Members. The pilot project ended in 2002. Correspondence from a partner of the pilot project, CROP (now PACE), at the end of 2002 and into 2003, culminated in a letter to Mr Fitzgerald in February 2003 asserting that the Council “obstructed significant planned research”. We could find no evidence of an investigation into that claim, or of any response to that letter from Mr Fitzgerald, although he says such a letter would have been passed to the Director of Education, Culture and Leisure (Ms Billups) for a response. We have not seen any evidence which substantiates that such a response was made. In our view concerns of this nature deserved a response from the Chief Executive, but there is no reason to believe the absence of such was a deliberate strategy or that Mr Fitzgerald was involved in, or aware of any ‘cover up. Mr Fitzgerald says he relied on the professional expertise of others around him; but there is no documentary evidence of such advice being sought or obtained. It is clear that opportunities to look into the position in more detail in 2001, when Mr Fitzgerald had personal dealings with the Police and again when he received external correspondence in 2002/2003, were missed. Had a more rigorous approach been taken by him then, or if he had looked to establish the reasons behind the issues raised with the Police or in the correspondence, his understanding of the issues and response by the Council might have been very different”.
“We have been told that the current employers of Mr Fitzgerald and Ms Allen have already conducted investigations of their own – but we have not been provided with any details of the evidence considered or the conclusions reached. We make no comment as to the adequacy or robustness of those processes or their findings”.
“we recommend that the Council refers this report and its findings to the current employer of Mr Fitzgerald and Ms Wilson. It is important to be clear that we have not found that either of these people were uniquely culpable for the Council’s response to emerging evidence of CSE. But there are points at which each missed opportunities to have changed the outcomes. We recommend that those employers consider whether they wish to raise any of these matters with their employee in light of the content of this report, the findings of any internal investigation already conducted and the nature of the role and responsibilities now undertaken by the employee in their current role, to satisfy themselves that the learning has been adequately captured.
We are mindful of the conclusions of the House of Commons Select Committee for Communities and Local Government in its Report dated 18 November 2014 (Reference HC 648) which concluded that it is for the current employers to be satisfied that each has confidence in the individuals in their employment and their ability to perform their current role and whether they consider that any conduct on the part of the employee has brought the new employer into disrepute”.
So why is all this important to Liverpool?
Firstly, The Council should have conducted its own enquiry into what happened and the lessons to be learnt from this at the time of the publication of the first report. The claim is made in one of the paragraphs above that Liverpool investigated the situation. I know of no such investigation so this is the e-mail that I have sent the council this afternoon:
“I am not aware of any investigations into this. The only action that I am aware of was Group Leaders being invited to ask questions of Mr Fitzgerald in a private session chaired by Prof Newby.
So, could you let me know:
- Was a report prepared?
- Who prepared it?
- Where did it go?
- Can I see it if there is one?”
Secondly, Liverpool Council was heavily criticised, along with other agencies in Liverpool about its response to Child Sexual Exploitation two years after we could have learned the lessons from Rotherham.
In my mind, the council has demonstrated it was only looking to align itself with Mr Fitzgerald at whatever cost to obstruct and delay the inquiry, clearly not having actually carried out any kind of investigation but claiming to have done.
The council shows no indication it is remotely interested in holding the chief exec to account. It is even more galling that two years after the council took him at his word and brushed the issue under the carpet, similar failings in leadership and management were detected in how authorities – including the council – handled CSE in Liverpool. If the council had taken the Rotherham allegations more seriously, maybe there would not have been identified so many failings in the protection of children from sexual exploitation in Liverpool in the report in 2016 by HMIC.
Lastly, this report calls into judgement the behaviour of the Mayor of Liverpool. When a member of staff of Doncaster Council was named in the Jay Report that Council arranged an external review of the evidence of the behaviour of the member of that staff member and that report was openly presented to the council. Contrast that with the Liverpool situation where if a report was done it has not been made public.
Add to that the extraordinary behaviour of Mr Anderson in creating a new method of dealing with the Chief Executive which is different from that used by any other member of staff in the second lot of problems relating to OCL and LDL and you must ask three key questions:
- Why does the Mayor of Liverpool treat Mr Fitzgerald differently than any other employee; and
- Why does the Council as a whole treat Mr Fitzgerald differently than any other employee?
- Why has the Council paid solicitors £9,000 to protect the council’s interests in the course of the enquiry? What on earth does the council need to defend itself action for actions taken in another council 15 years ago
At least now the Council has agreed to take action to bring Mr Fitzgerald into the same system which is employed for other staff and he will be questioned by a small group composed only of Labour members on Monday.
There are also issues relating to the original appointment of Mr Fitzgerald but as I understand that these are part of the ongoing Police enquiry I will make no further comment on these.
I don’t know what the Council will do next. It lost a major opportunity to do things 4 years ago and has made little effort to do things since. We are now paying the Chief Executive £20,000 a month in salary and costs to do nothing. This situation is untenable. The Mayor and Labour Councillors must now act.