Northamptonshire children's trust chair faces sack over role in council energy firm scandal

Former Nottingham City Council boss Ian Curryer is now considered a 'risk' to the children's trust

By Sarah Ward
Tuesday, 8th September 2020, 5:18 pm
Updated Tuesday, 8th September 2020, 5:21 pm
Ian Curryer was in charge when some loans were made to Robin Hood Energy.
Ian Curryer was in charge when some loans were made to Robin Hood Energy.

A move has been made to oust the new chairman of the Northamptonshire children’s trust for his part in a failed energy company which cost his former council tens of millions of pounds.

In a shock move this afternoon (Sept 8) Northamptonshire County Council’s cabinet has decided to write to the government-appointed children’s commissioner to look into the appointment of Ian Curryer and consider whether he is suitable for the highly paid and important position of chairing the new trust.

It comes after news emerged this week of the failure of Nottingham City Council’s energy firm Robin Hood Energy, which was loaned more than £30 million by the authority and much of which has now been lost with the collapse of the company. 230 workers will lose their jobs.

Ian Curryer was chief executive of the council from 2015 and was appointed to the Northamptonshire children’s trust in January by education secretary Gavin Williamson.

However today, cabinet member Jason Smithers made a speech at the cabinet meeting in which he said Ian Curryer’s appointment was now placing the council ‘at risk’ and said the county’s children ‘deserved much better’.

The children’s trust – which is already delayed – is due to begin on November 1 and will take over the running of children’s services for Northamptonshire, which have seen many crises in recent years and is rated as inadequate by Ofsted.

Cllr Smithers said: “As a corporate parent I have serious concerns about the process and the recruitment methods surrounding the appointment of the chair of the children’s trust.

“There has been considerable reporting by the Guardian newspaper and BBC of coverage of a public information report published last month which condemns what it calls the ‘institutional blindness of Nottingham City Council and it’s leaders. This will be the same leadership, chief executive officer, in place since 2015 when the company was established who is now chairing our soon to be established children’s trust.

“The same chief executive officer at Nottingham City Council and previous director of children’s services since 2008 when an investigation report published in July 2019 on child sexual exploitation highlighted the ‘lack of organisational learning from historic horrific cases’, the same chief exec who is now going to be chairing our soon to be established children’s trust.

"NCC has turned itself around in past two years and recovering from mistakes made in the past, however we are now placed at risk by the appoint of a chair by the Department for Education (DfE) for our most troubled service, who has a track record of failing to effectively manage an arms length company to the cost of £30 million to the taxpayers and failing to ensure his organisation learned lesson from his child sexual exploitation in the county.

“This is the same person we are asking to chair an arms length company managing services for our most vulnerable children in Northamptonshire. Our children deserve much better than this.

“The DfE should be called upon to reconsider their appointment and processes as we cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of the past. Especially when they are not of our own making.

“With local government reform it is paramount that the North and West authorities are given the best possible chance. Children’s services is (sic) an enormous responsibility, it is a big ticket item, and the disastrous consequences of failure do not bear thinking about. If this new trust will have a dreary approach to fiscal responsibility and lose £30 million of Northamptonshire taxpayers money- then I don’t need to tell you about the dire consequence that would have on local government reform and the future of children’s services.”

Ian Curryer is a former primary school teacher who joined Nottingham Council in 1999, rising through the ranks to take over as chief executive in 2013.

Council leader Cllr Matt Golby said the situation had been known to the council for a few weeks and it was right to challenge the appointment. He said he would now write to Children’s commissioner Andrew Christie and ask what ‘he is doing about this situation’. It was agreed to bring the matter back to the cabinet again.

At the meeting it was also agreed to hand over the contract negotiation for the trust to the leader, the chief executive and the commissioners. It will then come back to the scrutiny committee to be looked over.

The children’s trust has been beset by problems since it’s creation was ordered by Government. The first children’s commissioner resigned due to work related issues with the council’s two other government appointed commissioners and it has already had two interim chief executives. It may now lose its chair.

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