Northamptonshire children’s trust is still set to go live on 1 November, despite the recent resignation of its chair, after the county council’s leader raised concerns over his suitability to lead the new body.
Northamptonshire council confirmed last week that the trust’s go-live date was still the start of next month, with the independent provider now looking for a new chair after Ian Curryer stepped down.
His resignation followed a scathing attack last month, by Northamptonshire council cabinet member Jason Smithers, on Curryer’s record as director of children’s services, and then chief executive, of Nottingham City Council. This related to failures to learn lessons from past child sexual exploitation cases in Nottingham and poor oversight of an energy company the city council established, a record which Smithers said placed the trust at risk.
On the back of Smithers’ attack, Northamptonshire council leader Matt Goldby wrote to Andrew Christie, the children’s commissioner appointed by the Department for Education (DfE) to oversee improvement in the county’s children’s services, calling for him to review the appointment, though Curryer stepped down shortly after.
Clare Chamberlain – who was Christie’s fellow children’s commissioner for Northamptonshire – has been appointed by the DfE as interim chair, stepping down from her commissioner role, pending recruitment for Curryer’s replacement. Meanwhile, the trust has also appointed a permanent chief executive, Colin Foster, who joins from Bedford council where he has been director of children’s services.
A council spokesperson: “The trust programme restarted in May this year and the planned operational launch of the trust remains 1 November 2020. To ensure the resignation of Ian Curryer did not affect timescales an interim chair has already been put in place (Clare Chamberlain), plus the trust is also currently advertising for the permanent chair position and this closes on Monday 12 October.”
Response to past failings
The DfE had ordered Northamptonshire council to surrender its children’s services in May 2019 and form an independent organisation (the trust) to run them instead, due to the council’s significant failings. The county council is also due to be split up, next year, into two new unitary authorities, as a result of past financial and management failures.
The trust’s launch was originally planned for July of this year but the DfE agreed for it to be paused to prioritise the council’s Covid-19 response and it was rescheduled for November.
Northamptonshire’s children’s services journey
- May 2019 – Trust to take on Northamptonshire’s children’s services to give ‘fresh start’
- June 2019 – DfE outlines July 2020 as launch date for new children’s trust
- Sept 2019 – Children’s commissioner Malcolm Newsam quits job after only a few months
- Oct 2019 – Director of children’s services quits following commissioners resignation
- Oct 2019 – DfE appoints a new children’s commissioner and support commissioner
- April 2020 – Launch of new children’s trust postponed amid coronavirus crisis
- Sept 2020 – DfE looking into appointment of new children’s trust chair ‘as a matter of urgency’
- Sept 2020 – Chair of trust, Ian Curryer resigns, Clare Chamberlain put in place as interim chair and Colin Foster appointed as new chief executive – replacing interim Clive Heaphy
In a joint statement on the trust website, Christie and county council chief executive Theresa Grant, concerning the recruitment of the new permanent chair, said: “We are at a critical stage for trust establishment, with an ambitious go-live date. The recruitment of a new chair is key to continue driving the significant amount of work that has been achieved thus far.
“We are clear that all children in Northamptonshire, no matter what their background, deserve to be safe and have the best chances in life to achieve their full potential. The Trust will play the fundamental role in ensuring this happens. As the children’s commissioner and chief executive of the council, we are clear of the paramount importance that the chair will bring to improving children and young people’s lives.”
Following his appointment as chief executive, Foster said: “I commit to leading the trust to be an organisation that listens, enables and supports communities in the county.”
The DfE said its focus, following Curryer’s resignation and Chamberlain’s interim appointment, continued to be “ensuring rapid improvement for the children and families of Northamptonshire” to deliver improved services on behalf of the council.