"A bullying and sexist culture promoted by the former leader of Rotherham council made it difficult for staff to raise concerns about child sexual exploitation, MPs have been told.
Roger Stone resigned as Rotherham’s Labour council leader in the wake of the Jay Report, which brought to light that 1,400 children in Rotherham had been sexually exploited over a 16-year period.
Stone said when he stepped down: “I believe it is only right that I, as leader, take responsibility on behalf of the council for the historic failings that are described so clearly in the report and it is my intention to do so.”
Professor Alexis Jay, the author of the report and former chief inspector of social work in Scotland, has now singled him out for criticism during her evidence to the House of Commons communities and local government committee inquiry yesterday.
She said that “sexist bullying” designed to put down and undermine women was a feature of the council’s “extremely traditional, male-dominated administration” during a number of years.
“The behaviour of senior people is absolutely critical in determining the ethos and the culture of an organisation. Staff will take their cue from that,” she said. “I don’t think this was an appropriate climate in which to be discussing an issue of such social sensitivity as child sexual exploitation.”
Labour MP Simon Danczuk asked Prof Jay about a letter sent to the committee by Martin Kimber, the authority’s chief executive, in which he is said to have written: “There have been challenges largely associated with the dominance of a particular personality within the council, who at times could be very direct.”
Professor Jay said she assumed that Mr Kimber “was referring to the then leader of the council”. Stone led the authority for 11 years until his resignation when Prof Jay released her report in August.
Rotherham’s new council leader, Paul Lakin, told MPs that he agreed with Professor Jay’s comments, acknowledging that a “bullying culture did exist” at a senior level. He referred to his predecessor as “remote”, and said that Labour councillors had no access to the leader’s office because “you couldn’t even get through the door to see his secretary”.
Lakin said Stone initially resisted his request to commission an independent inquiry after reports in The Times revealed the widespread grooming of girls in the town".