When Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was a junior minister for Local Government, he helped me hold authorities in Telford to account for failings that led to Child Sexual Exploitation being unchecked for so long. So I was pleased that over 5 years later as Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak has been prepared to speak openly and take strong action on this difficult and sensitive issue. All too often street grooming and gang related sex crimes against children, were treated as unavoidable child abuse happening behind closed doors, that no one could have known about or prevented. The reverse was true. It was happening in plain sight.
Those in authority knew and saw what was happening but took the view that the child victims were badly behaved, on the fringes of society, and that they were ‘bringing it on themselves.’ The victims were ignored when they sought help. This attitude towards vulnerable women and girls displayed a casual sexism and misogyny, deeply rooted in the culture of some poorly led organisations; the very organisations, such as the police and local council, that were responsible for safeguarding and protecting these children. An organisation’s culture is determined by its leadership.
In Telford we have seen a complete change of leadership at West Mercia Police and an open and honest acceptance of failings that were made and this inspires confidence that change will follow. But at Labour run Telford Council we have seen the reverse. The senior political leadership remains in post. The Council Leader pretends it all happened before his time and therefore has nothing to do with him, despite him being in the Council Cabinet since 2011. He told the then Home Secretary, Telford did not need an inquiry into CSE, giving her spurious reasons that have now been shown to be untrue. Without a change of leadership, it will be hard to bring about cultural change.
Now the Telford Labour Council Leader is a senior figure in the national Labour Party, a Party which is running attack adverts on Rishi Sunak, blaming him for failing to act on child abuse. The hypocrisy is staggering.