Child-grooming scandals similar to Rotherham may have been missed across the country due to inspection failures by Ofsted, MPs have warned.
A new report by the Communities and Local Government Committee has warned shortcomings in inspecting Rotherham Council ‘leave serious concerns that organised child sexual exploitation in other local authorities may have been missed’.
It says every council in the country should now be re-inspected as soon as possible as a result.
Clive Betts, chairman of the committee, said ‘Ofsted’s credibility is now on the line’.
Mr Betts added he supports plans for a new inquiry into the conduct of South Yorkshire Police, particularly in light of new claims that the force ‘failed to investigate’ alleged abuse cases in Sheffield.
The report found ineffective inspections by Ofsted in Rotherham ‘contributed to a failure to expose the extent of the problem and to detect Rotherham Council’s on-going and tragic inability to combat it on the ground’.
MPs have also advised the Government to ask civil servant Louise Casey to do a follow-up inspection of Rotherham Council.
They also welcomed the resignation of former council leader Roger Stone, saying his position had been ‘wholly untenable’ and he had ‘no alternative’ but to apologise and resign.
Mr Betts said: “The perpetrators bear ultimate responsibility for the sexual exploitation of children in Rotherham but the ineffectiveness of Ofsted’s inspections contributed to a failure to expose the extent of the problem and to detect Rotherham Council’s on-going and tragic inability to combat it on the ground.
“The shortcomings in Ofsted’s inspection arrangements until 2013 leave serious concerns that organised child sexual exploitation in other local authorities may have been missed.
“It says its new inspection arrangements will pick up child sexual exploitation. Ofsted now needs to re-inspect all local authorities in England at the earliest opportunity to ensure councils have identified and are tackling child sexual exploitation in their communities.”
The report found Ofsted inspectors ‘failed to get under the skin of what was happening at Rotherham Council’, with officials not questioned enough and inspections up to 2012 being ‘too short and narrowly focused’.
The committee also ruled that it was right for Government-appointed commissioners to take charge of Rotherham Council last month as ‘there was no reasonable prospect of Rotherham itself putting its own house in order’, given the culture of denial uncovered by the Louise Casey inquiry.
As part of the process of returning Rotherham to democratic control, the committee has recommended the Government ask Ms Casey to undertake a further inspection to establish whether children’s services at Rotherham have improved.
Mr Betts added: “The shocking news that South Yorkshire Police may have known that hundreds of girls were at risk of ongoing sexual abuse in Sheffield but failed to investigate many allegations broke after the Committee agreed the report last week.
“In the Committee’s evidence session with Louise Casey, I asked about the position of the police. She said that the police have to step up and accept the same level of responsibility as the local authority. I fully agree.
“I am therefore pleased that in response to my suggestion on March 13, Dr Alan Billings, South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, announced a full ‘Casey-like’ county-wide inspection of South Yorkshire Police to get to an accepted understanding about the past and whether things have changed.
“I hope this will be the first step to restoring public confidence that the police can tackle child sexual exploitation.”
The committee’s report also said examinations of the conduct of both present and former Rotherham Council workers in relation to their handling of child abuse cases now needs to be completed by the commissioners, as well as local authorities that now employ senior officers who used to work in the town.