Telford & Wrekin Council is set to take steps to ensure a planned inquiry into child sexual exploitation in the borough is genuinely independent.
This follows on from a cabinet decision last month to appoint an independent person to oversee the inquiry and to ring fence funding to pay for it. The Council unanimously agreed to go ahead with a council-led independent inquiry at an extraordinary general meeting on April 10.
A report to Thursday’s cabinet meeting outlines how this will be achieved in the coming weeks.
Telford & Wrekin Council leader Councillor Shaun Davies said: “We are committed to ensuring that the upcoming Inquiry is given our full commitment as a cabinet and our full cooperation as a Council.
“Councillor Lee Carter will oversee this on behalf of the cabinet but the whole cabinet will work collaboratively on this issue as they do on the whole range of other things that are on our agenda to continue to drive the Borough forward and at the same time protect it from the worst of the Governments continuing cuts to services.
“From the outset, we have expressed concerns that a council commissioned inquiry would be limited in both powers and scope and would not give victims and survivors the answers they deserve.
“However, we are absolutely committed to ensuring that the process is as thorough and as independent as it possibly can be.
“The report to Thursday’s cabinet outlines the process we will go through to achieve that.
“We have also suggested that an independent group of cross party elected members will form an advisory group and, in an unusual step, we have suggested that this group is set up on an equal party basis – meaning we have given up our political majority in the context of the inquiry.
“In addition, we also support the proposal that anyone who has served as Council leader or who has served as lead member for Children’s Services and Safeguarding portfolio will be precluded from taking a seat on the advisory group given they will likely be called to give evidence in the Inquiry.”
This group will consider the most appropriate independent body to approach to ask them to develop terms of reference for the inquiry, recommend arrangements for the inquiry process and commission a suitably qualified and experienced inquiry chairman.
The council’s cabinet, which meets on April 19, is being asked to approve the process of the inquiry being set up and to set aside an initial sum of £350,000 from a Capacity Fund to pay for the inquiry, although the actual cost is very difficult to estimate at this stage.
The report also clarifies that the council has never previously been presented with a motion asking for an inquiry.
It also reiterates that a decision by the council in 2016 not to seek support for such an inquiry was unanimously approved by all councilors who voted.
The report also highlights that the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse’s Truth Project has already started its work in Telford including initial meetings with key stakeholders including representatives from West Mercia Police, the Council and the voluntary sector.
The project’s work in the borough is called “Telford Will Be Heard”. Victims and survivors who wish to talk in confidence with the Truth Project’s representatives can book a slot at www.truthproject.org.uk