MANY of you will have seen reports across the weekend about alleged child sexual exploitation in Govanhill and no doubt been deeply disturbed by what you read.

I think it is crucial that, as the leader of the city council, I set out for you not just what this authority has been doing in recent days with colleagues in partner agencies, most notably Police Scotland, but the longer term work which is being undertaken in Govanhill.

But most importantly it is to urge anyone, with evidence, information or simply concerns, to contact us so we can best address concerns within the wider community.

As has been stated over the weekend, child protection is everyone's responsibility and, as a partner working with several agencies to address this, we actively encourage our local communities to report anything that appears suspicious or gives cause for concern.

The challenges of Govanhill are not new: housing, health, employment and educational inequalities combine with issues around social cohesion. Govanhill has historically been and remains the most ethnically diverse community in Glasgow, if not Scotland. It is also one of the most densely populated in Scotland, placing considerable strain on local infrastructure and services and exacerbating community environmental problems, community tensions and other social issues.

When these allegations appeared in sections of the media on Friday I was briefed by senior officers from the council, who in turn had been part of police coordination meetings and been provided with details from colleagues in social work to determine whether their understanding of child exploitation in the area was matched by that being reported.

The incidents referred had not been raised with colleagues in social work or Police Scotland. But we are hugely mindful that child sexual abuse goes under reported, regardless of the physical or cultural community they take place in. But the police have now undertaken to interview those quoted in the story so all those concerns which have been made public are fully investigated and children protected.

Whilst we have no evidence of the specific allegations made, the very fact they have been made leads all of us engaged with addressing Child Sexual Exploitation to take them seriously.

Child Sexual Exploitation is a constant threat within our communities and those children who appear to be at significant risk must be assessed to ensure that effective safeguarding, sharing of information, prevention strategies and enforcement opportunities are all explored and maximised.

I must also stress that it has been made abundantly clear to me that at no time has our social work department downplayed any problem of child exploitation or failed to act out of fear of being branded racist or culturally insensitive. Child safety has been and remains our number one priority regardless of the cultural background of the child, their parents, or indeed any alleged perpetrator.

Partners within the Asylum and Roma team continue to provide an important contribution to public protection in the area, working with the Police to reduce the underlying causes of crime, combat human trafficking and continue to work preventatively to reduce child protection risks for children and families in Govanhill.

We are alert to the fact that exploitation and human trafficking are increasing problems generally and in Govanhill specifically and they present significant challenges for operational policing. Police Scotland in particular routinely upgrades the skills of officers skills so they can recognise and respond to cultural and language requirements within Govanhill and best reduce the incidence of crime and anti-social behaviour.

We cannot pretend our efforts to grasp the multitude of challenges within Govanhill are progressing as fast as we would like. But we are making inroads.

Significant progress been made around housing issues, with special powers granted to the council to acquire properties from rogue landlords, force them to provide criminal background checks and insurance details and generally tighten up the system which has allowed them to operate.

Major new social housing developments are either proposed, on site or recently completed. Literacy and learning programmes have been provided to around 250 adults per month, while the Big Noise Orchestra scheme has already seen improvements in children’s writing and languages skills.

The recent focus on Govanhill must not distract us from the fact that that the abuse of children, including sexual abuse, can happen in any community. Child safety must be our number one priority and no part of our society, regardless of the cultural background of the child, their parents, or indeed any alleged perpetrator is immune from this threat.

With that in mind, if you can assist in tackling this issue please contact ourselves or our partner agencies.