All councils will cut child safeguarding expenditure in the next three years as budget pressures mount, England’s most senior local authority chief executive has warned ministers.
In an interview and exclusive article for LGC in the wake of the Rotherham MBC abuse scandal, Mark Rogers, president of Solace, also warned that without consistent intervention and leadership, there would be “another Rotherham”.
Mr Rogers, also the chief executive of Birmingham City Council, said safeguarding had experienced “relative protection” up to now and the “least disinvestment” of the constituent parts of children’s services departments.
However, he told LGC: “We know that all councils around the country now in the next three years will have to take money out of safeguarding as well.”
Mr Rogers, one of the country’s foremost children’s services experts, said his council was one of the worst affected in terms of seeing the department’s spending power reduced.
“If we end up by spending about half of what we used to be able to spend on children’s services generally, however much we then protect safeguarding within the wider set of children’s services, it is just blindingly obvious to me that we will have less capacity to do work,” he said.
“If you then combine that with rising demand, either because we get better at detection or because actually there is more of this kind of abuse around, it is just obvious to me that we are going to struggle.”
Mr Rogers called for an “even more concerted campaign” across sector bodies, particularly Solace, the LGA and the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, to make clear the effect of cuts.
Professor Alexis Jay’s independent inquiry into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham, whose report was released last week, found at least 1,400 children were sexually exploited between 1997 and 2013.
The revelation that council staff and members had been aware of abuse for a decade and were perceived to have “turned a blind eye” to it, prompted a wave of disgust. Home secretary Theresa May on Tuesday revealed communities secretary Eric Pickles was “minded” to commission an investigation into the council while its chief executive Martin Kimber has been summoned to appear before the Commons communities and local government selectcommittee next week.
In his LGC article, Mr Rogers writes that he wants politicians, professionals, civic and religious leaders, and communities “to sign up to making the exposure and eradication of the causes of abuse the number one common cause”. He calls for a mindset change, similar to the hardening of attitudes against domestic abuse.
Expanding on those views, he said: “The prime minister and the archbishop of Canterbury and a lot of other people besides should be standing up in concert and saying, ‘Right, enough is enough’. Rotherham has said to us that unless we intervene consistently, nationally, and show some leadership over time, we will have another Rotherham in five years’ time. In fact, we’ll have another Rotherham in 12 months’ time.”
Mr Rogers pointed to similar cases in recent years in Derby, Oxfordshire and Peterborough. “This stuff is now surfacing on a regular basis,” he said. “This is a really good opportunity to say, ‘Enough is enough’.”
Echoing comments made by Professor Jay, Mr Rogers said it was “impossible to tell” whether the abuse uncovered in Rotherham was necessarily any worse than that in other areas of the country because data was unavailable. He added that the figure of 1,400 children needed to be scrutinised to understand how it was broken down over the years and the degree to which it might include repeat incidents.
“But more generally, both in terms of domestic violence and this kind of abuse, it’s under-reported anyway so we just don’t have a sound basis for really knowing how prevalent it is,” he said.
“Rotherham has just given us a big jolt to the system by suggesting that at least in one place it can be far more prevalent than anyone ever imagined.”