Telford Council’s grooming gang strategy in ‘conflict of interest’ storm

Telford Council’s grooming gang strategy in ‘conflict of interest’ storm

Telford and Wrekin Council’s response to the town’s grooming gangs scandal has been criticised by the local MP

GB News
Charlie Peters

By Charlie Peters

Published: 13/07/2023

- 16:29

Updated: 13/07/2023

- 17:02

Huge backlash to response to grooming gangs scandal

Telford and Wrekin Council’s response to the town’s grooming gangs scandal has been criticised by the local MP amid allegations that its independent chair has direct professional links to the council’s leadership.

The council announced on its website that it had appointed Sarah Messenger as an “independent chair and facilitator to support the implementation of the recommendations” made by the Crowther Report last year, which found that more than 1,000 victims had been abused in the town over the last three decades.

Messenger was the former Head of Workforce at the Local Government Association, where she now serves as a consultant.

Shaun Davies, the leader of Telford and Wrekin Council and Labour candidate for the next general election, was appointed as chair of the LGA earlier this month.

Davies had previously served as the LGA’s Senior Vice Chair, where he led Labour’s representation.

Lucy Allan, Telford’s Conservative MP, said: “There is no way that Sarah Messenger does not have a conflict of interest.”

She added: “It is impossible for her to be impartial, and the worst of it is the council just goes on pretending that there is no conflict.”

“Councillor Shaun Davies, the leader of Telford and Wrekin Council, has long been the leader of the Labour Party on the LGA, he’s long been the vice chair. He then went and appointed somebody from the LGA to take on the role of independent chair.

"He then went on to become the chair of the LGA and he still feels that this is a fit and proper person to be independent who has no conflict of interest and can be capable of being totally impartial.

“Now, I don’t know about you, but if your boss asks you to do something, you’re not going to criticise them and show them in an unfavourable light. You’re going to avoid that at all costs. You have a job to do. You have your career to think about.”

The council said it strongly rejected Allan’s perspective on the potential conflict of interest.

In a statement, it said: “The role of Chair of the Local Government Association is selected based on the proportion of votes gained for each political party in national local elections.

"As such, following local elections in May, Shaun Davies was confirmed as Chair at the LGA at the annual conference on 4 July 2023. As Chair of the LGA, he has no part in the recruitment or management of paid employees in the association.

“Sarah Messenger is the independent chair of the Strategic Implementation Group which oversees the implementation of the recommendations. This is different to the Joint CSE Review Group.

“Neither Councillor Davies nor any other elected member had input into Sarah Messenger’s appointment.

“A thorough and independent selection process was led by the council’s legal director and by local survivors of CSE who had equal representation on the selection panel, shortlisted candidates and produced interview questions.”

Allan’s statements to this broadcaster on the potential conflict of interest were included in wider accusations about the council failing to carry out proper changes since the town’s sex abuse gangs scandal was exposed by an independent report last July.

The council said at the beginning of this month that 42 of the 82 actions set by the Crowther report were “ready for assessment by the Independent Chair” and that a further 13 actions would be completed by the end of July.

Allan said “there is no evidence of any of the progress the Council says that they have made.”

She continued: “They’ve claimed that they have implemented a certain number of recommendations, but nobody knows which recommendations those are.

"So it’s not possible to drill down and say, well, how have you implemented these? How can we be sure that that’s been done to a satisfactory standard? There is nobody to scrutinise the work that they’ve been doing.”

The council said it had publicly shared details of its progress, such as establishing a Joint CSE Review Group and publishing “data and profiling” on the issue.

It said that the recommended actions it had completed so far were related to taxi and night-time economy licensing, and that there were further completed actions on education, children’s services - including a funding commitment to a specialist CSE social work team - and changes to how the council manages CSE complaints.

Allan said: “We’ve been led to believe that there have been meetings of groups of people who are in charge of the implementation process. We find no evidence of those meetings having been held.”

Telford & Wrekin Council referred to the Crowther Report, which said that the Joint CSE Review Group should meet formally every six months.

It added that the group met formally in February and is next due to meet later this month and that they have also met on an informal basis to progress their work.

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