Scandal-hit Rotherham Council could be run from Whitehall after Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles ordered a wide-ranging inquiry into its failings last night.
Louise Casey, who heads the Government’s Troubled Families programme, will lead the inspection and Mr Pickles made clear that if necessary he is prepared to intervene directly.
The move follows the recent report by Professor Alexis Jay which outlined how hundreds of children had been subjected to trafficking, rape and other sexual exploitation between 1997 and 2013, triggering the resignations of council leader Roger Stone and chief executive Martin Kimber.
Mr Pickles, a former Bradford Council leader, said the council “utterly failed its children”.
“We cannot undo the permanent harm that these children have suffered. But we can and should take steps to ensure that this never happens again and make sure that all local authorities deliver on their essential duty to protect vulnerable children,” he said.
Ms Casey has been asked to report by the end of November on whether the council is functioning properly in the areas of governance, children’s services and taxi licensing.
She will also look into whether the authority is suffering from “institutionalised political correctness”, covers up information or silences whistle-blowers, Mr Pickles said.
Mr Pickles has shown a willingness to order direct intervention before. Four years ago he ordered Government-appointed commissioners to oversee Doncaster Council after it was described as “dysfunctional” by the Audit Commission.
The inquiry was announced just hours after council leader Paul Lakin had unveiled a package of measures to restore the authority’s shattered reputation.
A new cabinet will be appointed and a £120,000 fund established to pay for counselling for child sex victims, paid for by axing two of its cabinet posts and banning foreign travel for councillors.
During a second day of grilling by MPs, the council’s director of children’s services said she felt embattled South Yorkshire police commissioner Shaun Wright had “let us down” when he was the councillor responsible for overseeing her department.
Joyce Thacker saidthat a 2008 report on child abuse in Rotherham was given to Mr Wright when he was the cabinet member responsible for children’s services.
But she said he did not pass it on to the rest of the council’s ruling cabinet.
Asked if she felt “let down” by Mr Wright, Mrs Thacker said: “I think, with hindsight, yes I am.
“If the report had been given to cabinet it still would not have stopped child sexual exploitation. But the ownership may have been there for the issue much better across the council than it was.”
It emerged yesterday that Mr Wright is the Association of Police Commissioners’representative on a Home Office panel on child sexual abuse.