Leaders: Wright must go over failure of duty

South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Shaun Wright. Picture: PA
South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Shaun Wright. Picture: PA
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Resignations to the left of him, resignations to the right of him – but still Shaun Wright, the police and crime commissioner for South Yorkshire, insists he should stay in his job.

Yesterday, his deputy, Tracey Cheetham, resigned from her post in the wake of the report into the appalling scale of child abuse in Rotherham. Earlier this week, Roger Stone, the leader of Rotherham Council, resigned with immediate effect.

Wright was in charge of children’s services between 2005 and 2010 and had already been presented with “stark evidence” of the appalling scandal while in office. His continuing defiance of the rising chorus of calls to resign from his £85,000-a-year post is a disgrace and has added to public anger over the staggering scale of child abuse.

Home Secretary Theresa May has said Wright should “heed calls” to resign, a call echoed by senior Labour figures. His refusal to stand down not only confirms a picture of a local authority in denial over the gravity of abuse that went unchecked but it also – once again – raises questions about the accountability of council officials and the police.

The report by Professor Alexis Jay found that at least 1,400 children had been sexually exploited from 1997-2013, mainly by gangs of men of Pakistani heritage. It also revealed there had been three previous inquiries, including one written in 2006 during Wright’s tenure.

No-one could say they were not told, or were unaware, of what was happening on their watch. Indeed, Sonia Sharp, “strategic director” of children’s services between 2005 and 2008, has said she was briefed about the issue of sexual exploitation of young people when she started in 2005. Joyce Thacker, her £130,000-a-year successor, is still in situ and also under pressure to resign.

This is far from the first time that grievous lapses have been found in police and local authority oversight and where senior professionals have refused to resign until enormous public pressure has been brought to bear.

The usual pretexts for holding on to office – that this was a set of “unrepresentative isolated incidents” or a “failure of communication” within the authority, cannot be invoked here. Indeed, the only threadbare cliché left to the council this week was that “lessons had been learnt”.

This falls abysmally short of the response this huge scandal surely merits and cannot in any way be regarded as a credible defence. It also underlines deep suspicions that, in terms of accountability, there is much in local government now that is plainly and deeply dysfunctional.

Labour MP John Mann is now asking the Home Secretary whether a case of misconduct in public office could be brought. That it should require the prospect of legal action to bring those responsible for children’s services in Rotherham to account only adds to deep public anger over this manifest failure of duty.

Edict flies in the face of democracy

It’s crying out for a full-scale appeal by a squadron of lawyers to the European Court of Human Rights: Highland Council has moved to ban staff from displaying Yes or No referendum campaign stickers on their cars. Employees have been warned they will be breaking council’s guidelines if they display such stickers while their cars are parked on council property.

An over-reach by the council on personal property? It could well be. An infringement of human rights? Quite possibly. An over-zealous, over-the-top enforcement of campaign purdah laws? Almost certainly. Car stickers have been a feature of political campaigns for decades. Does it really mean car owners will have to peel off bumper stickers and remove all insignia from their vehicles? What of the Union flag on some number plates? Or a little saltire on the side window? Either could be taken as a partisan signal when Highland Council officials are “on the case”. And why stop here? Why not a ban on window stickers for council house tenants?

The ruling stems from the Scottish Independence Referendum Act 2013, which imposes restrictions on the publication of material by public bodies in the 28 days before the referendum. It prevents such bodies from publishing material that deals with any issues raised by the referendum question or puts any arguments for or against any outcome.

But both the Scottish and the UK governments were only a few weeks ago spending millions of pounds publishing material in the pursuit of their particular causes.

To insist on a strict interpretation of the law is unreasonable and actually anti-democratic.