Shaun Wright, Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire is having a busy day. Suddenly the rest of the world has woken up to the fact that organised child sexual exploitation was happening in South Yorkshire, and are looking for heads to roll. The Leader of Rotherham Council has already gone, and the politician in charge of children’s social services has since gone on to be elected Police and Crime Commissioner – many people, including apparently the Labour Party, senior Labour politicians and the local Labour MP are calling for his head too.
Mr Wright may be feeling a little sore about this. He will say that much information didn’t reach his level when he was the Cabinet Member responsible for Children’s Services at Rotherham Council. He has done what he can to fight child sexual exploitation since getting elected, admittedly possibly in part because anyone with a knowledge of politics in South Yorkshire could see this scandal coming. OFSTED kept saying Children’s Services were good – why would he believe any different? And what about any individual cops and social workers who failed countless children, including those responsible for managing those services. Why, Mr Wright might think, should he carry the can when none of them have?
But this is the wrong way of thinking about it. If Mr Wright has done something wrong, he should be investigated and held to account, and that should be the case whether or not he is a Police and Crime Commissioner. In some ways, him being a PCC is irrelevant to the question of whether he takes the blame for failures, perhaps even failures by him, but which largely occurred before PCCs came into being.
No, the reason Mr Wright should resign is much simpler. He is the Police and Crime Commissioner – he represents the public, not the police, and is the person now who should be taking the independent report and running with it, to hold people to account, to press for reform, to ensure that lessons are learned on the streets and in the management meetings, and not just in corporate spin. He can’t do that because he is compromised by having spent so many years in charge of Rotherham Children’s Services when they were systematically failing children who were being sexually abused.
“I didn’t know” in this instance is not a good defence. Anyone pleading they didn’t know is in a poor position to argue with others that they ought to have known. His past history renders him unable to command the confidence of the people in doing the very job he is in, and if you find yourself no longer able to do a job, maybe it should be someone else’s turn.
Today many are beginning to complain about how difficult PCCs are to remove. Some people in Parliament clearly feel Mr Wright should go, but are unable to find a mechanism to remove him. This is ironic. You actually can get rid of a PCC, if they are incapacitated, or convicted of certain types of offence, and in the latter case they won’t be able to get elected back into office. That’s not something we can say for MPs or members of the House of Lords, and they don’t just uphold the law – they make it!
If they are serious about Mr Wright’s position, then perhaps there should be action within the Labour Party. If he’s not the Labour candidate next time round I doubt he’ll be elected PCC again in South Yorkshire. Sure, it’s slow – by my reckoning it will take 21 months if Mr Wright refuses to take the hint – but it’s better than nothing.