Rotherham abuse. Which 53 councils shut up shop when people came knocking?

Starting in January 2011, I carried out a broad ranging survey of 345 English local authorities (local councils) which was aimed at discovering totals for compromise agreements (settlement agreements) drawn up by each council between 2006 and 2011.

Compromise agreements came into being in the 1990s.  They represent full and final settlements, legal documents which are drafted to ‘tie up any loose ends’ when a staff member’s employment comes to a halt.  This ‘halt’ tends to be an unexpected, early one, and most often comes about because the employee was in dispute with their employer.  The so-called ‘bond of trust’ between employer and employee may have broken down – which is how it’s usually portrayed by the employer.  Sometimes, the employee may have been a senior member of staff, whose position had come under threat or for whatever reason, become untenable.

Compromise agreements tend to include clauses which prevent all signatories, including the issuing body, from talking about the circumstances that led to the issuing of the agreement and the contents of the agreement itself.  These are “gagging clauses”.  Some people, usually those with reputational concerns uppermost, refer to them as  ‘confidentiality clauses’, and may be at pains to insist that they no longer use ‘gagging clauses’.  In my mind, there is no distinction because they both have the same chilling effect on the signatory.

These are examples of contract clauses that gag or hinder free speech.

Compromise agreements and gagging clauses are legal, and regardless of the bilge that’s put about by employers, solicitors and sometimes unions, these draconian measures are used primarily to protect, preserve and advance the reputation of the issuing body.  The unions’ interest is to conserve member funds.  The employers’ interest is to polish the turd.  The solicitors’ interest is purely a financial one.  (Who’d have thought that, eh readers?)

For the purposes of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and the Data Protection Act 1998, public bodies such as councils, NHS Trusts, police forces, fire authorities, etc. – bound by the laws within these Acts, are referred to as ‘data controllers’.

I’m about to check the survey I posted here a couple of years back, to see whether Rotherham Borough Council (the organisation that’s currently reeling from accusations of cover ups and unaddressed child abuse) answered my query at the time, and if they did, how many compromise agreements had been drawn up.

I’d say the number of agreements, if disclosed, would be a reliable barometer of how concerned the councillors and senior officers of this council were about concealing potentially scandalising events.

Compromise Agreements Survey – posted in February 2013

After 45 working days, in breach of the FOI Act, Rotherham Borough Council eventually responded, declaring a total of 36 compromise agreements, drawn up in circumstances of dispute, between the years 2006 and 2011.

According to this article from The Guardian, Shaun Wright, the under threat Police & Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire, was Rotherham Borough Council’s cabinet member for children and young people’s services between the years 2005 and 2010.  The period of the child abuse stretched between 1997 and 2013 – 16 years.

This is not a large number of CAs, compared to other respondents, some of whom went into three figures:

Brighton and Hove – 123

Bristol City – 121

Coventry City – 114

Councils have statutory obligations to protect the children under their care.  I would not want to draw any conclusions from these figures specifically with regard to child abuse, but because compromise agreements are an effective means of managing a statutory protector’s reputation, it’s possible that refusing requests for information when asked, or finding an effective means of withholding it, such as an exemption written into the Act, may be uppermost in the minds of persons who ‘know where the bodies are buried’, and want to keep a lid on potential scandal.

My survey was responded to, usually in full, by an impressive 292 of the 345 English Councils who were approached.  I began to get the impression that modern IT storage systems had been making their mark.  However…

22 data controllers released the information late in the day, or after I’d appealed to the Information Commissioner’s Office as a last resort:

English 2006 to 2011
Local Number of
Authority Compromise
Agreements in
dispute circumstances
Ashfield District Council 1
Bath and North East Somerset Council 18
Blaby District Council 19
Haringey Borough Council 30
Hertsmere Borough Council 11
Kettering Borough Council 6
Kirklees Borough Council 15
Knowsley Borough Council 8
Lambeth Borough Council 19
Leicestershire County Council 25
Malvern Hills District Council 7
Newham Borough Council 25
North Somerset Council 0
Salford City Council 40
South Bucks District Council 6
Sutton Borough Council 55
Tameside Borough Council 18
Tewkesbury Borough Council 1
Walsall Borough Council 26
Wokingham District Council 20
Worthing Borough Council 1
Wyre Forest District Council 0
Total 351

A total of 53 councils held out all the way through, coming up with exemptions, or failing to respond fully, as follows:

English 2006 to 2011 Exemption
Local Number of or reason
Authority Compromise
Agreements in
dispute circumstances
Barnet Borough Council 0 Cost of locating data
Birmingham City Council 0 Cost of locating data
Blackpool Borough Council 0 Cost of locating data
Bradford City Council 0 Misunderstood the request
Camden Borough Council 0 No Central data / Cost
Chiltern District Council 0 Exempt personal data
Croydon Borough Council 0 No Central data / Cost
Cumbria County Council 0 Cost of locating data
East Lindsey District Council 0 No Central data / Cost
East Riding of Yorkshire Council 0 Cost of locating data
Essex County Council 0 Cost of locating data
Gloucestershire County Council 0 Couldn’t exclude TUPE etc.
Greenwich Borough Council 0 Cost of locating data
Hampshire County Council 0 Cost of locating data
Havering Borough Council 0 No Central data / Cost
Herefordshire Council 0 No Central data / Cost
Hertfordshire County Council 0 No Central data / Cost
Hinckley & Bosworth Borough Council 0 Exempt personal data
Hull City Council 0 Nothing heard
Isle of Wight Council 0 No Central data / Cost
Islington Borough Council 0 Cost of locating data
Leeds City Council 0 Couldn’t exclude TUPE etc.
Leicester City Council 0 No Central data / Cost
Lewisham Borough Council 0 Cost of locating data
Liverpool City Council 0 Cost of locating data
Luton Borough Council 0 Cost of locating data
Manchester City Council 0 Cost of locating data
Medway Council 0 Cost of locating data
Mid Devon District Council 0 Cost of locating data
Middlesbrough Council 0 No Central data / Cost
North East Lincolnshire Council 0 No Central data / Cost
North Yorkshire County Council 0 Cost of locating data
Norwich City Council 0 Exempt personal data
Nottingham City Council 0 Nothing heard
Oldham Borough Council 0 Exempt personal data
Oxfordshire County Council 0 No data / Cost / resources
Peterborough City Council 0 Cost of locating data
Plymouth City Council 0 Cost of locating data
Sandwell Borough Council 0 Cost of locating data
Sheffield City Council 0 Cost of locating data
Somerset County Council 0 Cost of locating data/delay
South Tyneside Borough Council 0 Nothing heard
Southwark Borough Council 0 Nothing heard
Staffordshire Moorlands District Council 0 Exempt personal data
Stoke on Trent Council 0 Cost of locating data
Suffolk County Council 0 Don’t hold the data
Test Valley Borough Council 0 Cost of locating data
Thurrock Borough Council 0 Want to charge a fee for ‘disbursements’
Waltham Forest Borough Council 0 Cost of locating data
Warwickshire County Council 0 Cost of locating data
West Lancashire District Council 0 Cost of locating data
West Sussex County Council 0 No Central data / Cost
Westminster City Council 0 Exempt personal data

If you click on any of the above links on the left, you’ll get a flavour of the difficulty I experienced in trying to get these councils to abide by the Act, to listen to reason and to open up their books for inspection.

I was exercising my statutory rights once more, after I’d briefly had them ‘removed’ by Cheshire West and Chester Council as a draconian means of restricting my access to whatever it was they were holding.

These 53 councils had basically slammed the shutters down, quoting various exemptions within the Act to support their position.  The most common were ‘data not centrally held’ and ‘costs of retrieval’.  Which I found strange, because 292 of their LGA colleagues appeared to have no difficulty.  Perhaps the data was not centrally held by design?  But that’s another story.

The point I want to make is:

If I was investigating child abuse or ANY form of abuse, and wanted to make a worthy and valuable job of it, I’d start by banging on the doors of the 53 naysayers listed above – particularly Southwark, Hull, Nottingham and South Tyneside.  These 53 councils also happen to feature those whose scandalous conduct is regularly reported upon within the pages of Private Eye magazine.

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About Wirral In It Together

Campaigner for open government. Wants senior public servants to be honest and courageous. It IS possible!
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4 Responses to Rotherham abuse. Which 53 councils shut up shop when people came knocking?

  1. Funny, if you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear only applies to us, not them.

  2. Pingback: Paul Cardin appears on www.bastionradio.com | Wirral In It Together

  3. Wirral In It Together says:

    And just to underline the point I’ve made about the importance attached to reputation and what kind of face is presented to the watching world, Rotherham Council have appointed Mark Fletcher-Brown, highly-paid PR guru who makes a killing, travelling around different local authorities. Rotherham Council are paying him £850 per day.

    So it seems the deeper you sink into the mire, the more of the local public’s money you will have to pay to extricate yourself. One would have thought that after covering up hideous child abuse, excessively ‘managing one’s reputation’, and after councillors were forced to resign en masse, a few pennies would have dropped, and some realisations would have been made about the need for openness, transparency and the ushering in of careful public oversight.

    But no, off they go again, cards clutched to their chests, beyond accountability, off down the road most travelled, spinning, honing, polishing, and presenting a bogus, manipulated image to their extremely weary public masters.

  4. l8in says:

    Reblogged this on L8in.

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