Did Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council need sorting out? Almost certainly. Was Louise Casey the right person to do it? Also almost certainly not. The result might be right, but the way it has been achieved is just as much an example of maladministration as what’s happened at Rotherham, even if the consequences are less devastating. And if this “process” is allowed to stand English Local Government as a whole will come to regret it.
Most of the Press and Media have concentrated on the lurid account of what went on at Rotherham, most of which is scandalous. The allegations of bullying, cover-up and denial have been exhaustively covered. What everyone seems to have ignored is the “due process” aspect of this “Inspection” of Rotherham – it’s not just the verdict that matters, but how it was arrived at.
So what did happen? To wrote the report “On the 10th September 2014, the Secretary of State appointed Louise Casey CB under section 10 of the Local Government Act 1999 to carry out an inspection of the compliance of Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council with the requirements of Part 1 of that Act, in relation to the Council’s exercise of its functions on governance, children and young people, and taxi and private hire licensing.”
For the full Report see here.
The result of this inspection has been a decision that central government effectively take over Rotherham for more than a year and imposes a group on unelected and unaccountable “Commissioners” until new elections in 2016. Now this is clearly an extreme measure and one that should worry anyone concerned with local democracy. Maybe it is justified, but it has to be seen to be so.
So we come to the nub of the problem – the appointment of Louise Casey as an “independent” Inspector to investigate Rotherham MBC.
Ms Casey’s credentials would seem questionable at best. She’s never worked in Local Government or children’s service. She is a civil servant and the civil service has to serve the government of the day. And then there’s her record.
Here she is commenting on a government campaign against binge drinking: “I don’t know who bloody made that up; it’s nonsense … Doing things sober is no way to get things done.” In the same speech she threatened to “deck” fellow civil servants if they ever mentioned “evidence based policy” to her again. Given that both the role of ‘evidence’ and bullying turned out to be major elements of the Rotherham investigation, this was to say the least unfortunate.
Her latest role, before the Rotherham “inspection”, was running the so-called “Troubled Families” policy, about which she published a highly dubious report. Transparency declaration – I was one of the many who pointed out just how spurious this report was here. Again, this demonstrated a rather less than rigorous approach to what constituted ‘evidence’ as far as Ms Casey is concerned.
I think it was in an episode of “Yes Minister” that Sir Humphrey opined you should never set up an inquiry unless you first knew what the result would be.
If you can read this letter from Casey to CLG Secretary Eric Pickles and tell me this wasn’t a just such an example, I would be very surprised.
Rotherham probably was a “rotten Borough” and needed sorting, but was really the best way to do it? The result might be right, but the way it was achieved wasn’t.
And in the future, when a case isn’t quite so apparently clear-cut, will English local government come to regret the precedent set here of a Secretary of State using a civil servant, in this case with an ‘interesting’ record, to justify “decking” a local authority he or she doesn’t like?