Council had ‘full knowledge’ when appointing children’s trust CEO that he had applied for another job

Northamptonshire County Council has said it had ‘full knowledge’ that the man they had appointed as interim chief executive of a new children’s trust had applied for another job.

James Thomas was recently appointed as the interim CEO of the new children's trust for Northamptonshire, but will be leaving at the end of June before it launches
James Thomas was recently appointed as the interim CEO of the new children's trust for Northamptonshire, but will be leaving at the end of June before it launches

But the decision to make the role interim has garnered criticism from opposition councillors, and the county council says it has now had to ‘delay’ the appointment of a new permanent candidate due to coronavirus.

It was reported on Tuesday that James Thomas, the man who had been appointed to the position only last month, is set to join Tower Hamlets Council in July – at the same time the new children’s trust is set to launch and take on the delivery of services from the county council.

Opposition councillors only found out about the move from a press release from Tower Hamlets Council welcoming Mr Thomas to new his role, and said they had not been given the full picture about his appointment.

Councillor Jane Birch, a Labour member for the Kingsthorpe South ward, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “Why appoint an interim? I just don’t get it. For something that’s going to need oversight and building up trust and confidence, an interim will not do that.

“We’ve got too many consultants, people who come in and give us their two pennies worth and then move on. If there’s people out there who are up to the job then just go out there and get them.”

But Andrew Christie, the government appointed Children’s Commissioner for the county council, said the authority was aware that they would only have Mr Thomas’ services for a very short while.

He said: “We would like to congratulate James on his appointment at Tower Hamlets. We are very pleased for him and think Tower Hamlets has made an excellent appointment.

“In early March, we asked James to come and help us with the set-up of the children’s trust on an interim basis at NCC, in the full knowledge that he had applied for the job in Tower Hamlets, and that we would likely only have the benefit of his presence for a few months.

“Recruitment for the role continued during James’ time with us but the appointment of a permanent trust chief executive has now been delayed because of the need to prioritise the COVID-19 crisis response. We are now considering what arrangements we will need to make to bridge the gap when James leaves at the end of June, ahead of being able to make a permanent appointment.”

In an internal email sent to staff, the county council’s chief executive Theresa Grant said that Mr Thomas ‘brings a track record of delivering social care improvement’.

The creation of the children’s trust was ordered by the government after a series of poor Ofsted reports on how the council’s children’s services were being delivered.

But Councillor Jane Birch questioned whether the launch of the trust could still go ahead, and criticised a lack of communication to elected members, with members ‘up in arms’ over finding out Mr Thomas was leaving from the press release instead of from the county council.

She said: “How can he [Mr Thomas] give his full attention when he’s looking forward to a permanent job and moving to an authority that has a very good Ofsted report? Northamptonshire requires 100 per cent attention.

“It can’t go ahead in the present circumstances. It’s supposed to go live in July and we have several highly paid consultants to work on the transition. What are they doing? How much are they being paid and how much of their work will actually come to fruition?

“We are not getting all the information we should be getting. I find it very dispiriting and it just makes me worry more and more about what we don’t know.”