The Nottingham Common Purpose Effect Re-Visited

In July 2019 the Independent Inquiry Into Child Sexual Abuse published its investigation report Children in the care of the Nottinghamshire Councils. Upon first reading, it quickly becomes evident that to the present day Councils do not have a process for the regular reporting of child sexual abuse allegations, or the action taken in response.

As a result, understanding of the scale of allegations made over a period lasting over half a century, has been limited and inconsistent. It concerned us to note that the Chair and Panel concluded that 'neither of the Councils learned from their mistakes despite over 30 years of evidence of failure to protect children in care.'

Professor Alexis Jay, Chair of the Inquiry, said:

For decades, children who were in the care of the Nottinghamshire Councils suffered appalling sexual and physical abuse, inflicted by those who should have nurtured and protected them ... Those responsible for overseeing the care of children failed to question the extent of sexual abuse or what action was being taken. Despite decades of evidence and many reviews showing what needed to change, neither of the Councils learnt from their mistakes, meaning that more children suffered unnecessarily.

It is hard to imagine that the facts which became apparent to the Inquiry, did not relate to the treatment of innocent children in the workhouses of the Victorian era, but concerned the provision of Local Authority care to vulnerable children in the late twentieth and early twenty first centuries in England. There are many similarities between this Alexis Jay led Inqiry into Nottingham Councils and her earlier Inquiry into Rotherham MBC which we will examine and discuss later.

Key findings of the Independent Nottingham Inquiry

These are as summarised below.

  • For more than five decades, the Councils failed in their statutory duty to protect children in their care from sexual abuse.
  • The Councils exposed children to the ‘risk and reality of sexual abuse perpetrated primarily by predatory residential staff and foster carers.’
  • Those who failed these vulnerable children included elected members, senior managers, frontline social work and residential staff and foster carers within both of the Councils, and Nottinghamshire Police.
  • Successive internal and external reviews of service provision flagged up weaknesses in both policy and practice relating to child protection. Although these ‘recommendations were accepted they were rarely acted upon.’
  • Revised policies ‘were not generally made known to staff nor was there a checking process in place to verify implementation.’
  • Sexualised behaviour by staff at Beechwood Children’s Home was tolerated or overlooked to such an extent that three members of staff, who were subsequently prosecuted, were allowed to flourish.
  • Managers at Beechwood were either complacent or deliberately ignored the plight of children under their care. Some staff at Beechwood voiced concerns but were ignored whilst others witnessed inappropriate behaviour by other staff towards the children yet did nothing.
  • There was a lack of proactive leadership by the various chief executives of the councils and their directors of children’s services.

The report conclusions in respect of governance of the County and City Councils illustrate recent differences between the two. For example, 'County councillors are now briefed on some allegations of sexual abuse of children in care. A recently introduced protocol requires that the Lead Member for Children’s Services be briefed on all allegations of sexual abuse against members of staff, but only some allegations of sexual abuse against foster carers or other children.' In direct contrast the report mentions that "at the time of our hearings in October 2018, the City Council had no written protocol on when the Lead Member should be notified of allegations of sexual abuse of children in care."

The Conclusions in respect of Nottinghamshire Police

The Police did not escape criticism. In particular the panel felt that 'Operation Daybreak' was not adequately resourced or supported from its formation in 2011 until 2015. Given the increasing number of allegations of abuse and the criticisms from internal and external reviews, senior police officers should have done more to support the operation. The police did not treat the allegations 'with sufficient seriousness'.

'Since 2015 ... there have been a number of prosecutions and there now appears to be greater confidence in the force’s commitment amongst complainants. Despite this positive comment the report then then goes on to state 'Nottinghamshire Police has consistently shown a lack of urgency and failed to address the weaknesses identified and the recommendations made in recent inspections and reviews concerning its approach to investigating child sexual abuse.' Although 'the most recent assessment report indicates some improvements.'

We understand that 'in August 2016, as part of national recommendations for forces to review each other’s public protection arrangements, Lancashire Police carried out a peer review of Nottinghamshire Police.' One of the outcomes of that review was 'the creation of a multi-agency sexual exploitation panel and a cross-authority perpetrator panel, both attended by the “Police, Social Care and the Charitable/Voluntary sector”.

The following document Outcomes from Work sessions following Lancashire Peer review, linked to the Jay Nottingham report, makes reference to a 'General silo'd approach' and states

this issue was addressed head on by the departmental restructure - which removes silo working - with the exception of discreet specialist areas of business.

We should remember that key claims made by Common Purpose about its’ leadership programmes is that it trains ‘diverse leaders’ to be better able to collaborate and work across organisational and geographical boundaries (silo-breaking), and, encourages leaders to act ‘beyond their authority.’

The Outcomes from Work document also makes reference to the fact that following the PEER review 'a multi-agency sexual exploitation (MASE)_ panel has been established in the city and the county attended by Police, Social Care and Charitable / Voluntary sector.'

Multi-Agency working

In our original article, published in 2015, (The Nottingham Common Purpose Effect) we revealed that of the six strong Chief Executives group four were Common Purpose Graduates. Multi-agency partnership working was already in existence at that time. For example, Nottingham Children's Partnership Board (Acting as the Children’s Trust) included representatives from eighteen organisations. Not only did it include representatives from Nottinghamshire City Council and Nottinghamshire Police, but it also included representatives from the Health Sector, Education, Nottingham Council for Voluntary Services and other voluntary sector bodies.

When we examined the individual members of the Children's Partnership Board we discovered that Nottingham City Council's Chief Executive, the Chief Executive, Nottingham Council for Voluntary Services, and, Alison Michalska, the Corporate Director for Children and Families were all graduates of Common Purpose. Michalska was also a member of the management board of the Virtual Staff College. The Virtual Staff College 'designs and delivers professional development opportunities for those in leadership positions in local authority children’s services and other principal stakeholders such as HWBs, CCGs and other partners, working in the leadership, management and delivery of services for children, young people and families'.

When we asked: Who regulates Nottingham Children’s Partnership? We discovered that 'the Partnership is governed by Nottingham Children’s Partnership Board, which is accountable to One Nottingham. One Nottingham is the strategic partnership for the whole of Nottingham and is accountable to the Government for the delivery of key targets for the City. In 2015 we were able to point out that:

not only are some members of the Children’s Partnership board also sitting on the One Nottingham Board but Common Purpose graduates are present in both boards. One surely has to question if this is a healthy arrangement.

The report ‘Independent Enquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham’, by Professor Jay.

In this earlier report of Professor Jay into Rotherham CSE, published in August 2014, she wrote:

An issue or responsibility that belongs to everybody effectively belongs to nobody, and in the case of sexual exploitation of children in Rotherham, accountability was key.

Our own investigation, published on 4th February 2015 (The Rotherham Common Purpose Effect), identified the following Common Purpose operatives within the Police and Rotherham Borough Council. These being the Chief Constable of Police and his predecessor; the Chief Executive, Rotherham Borough Council; the Manager of Rotherham Local Strategic Partnerships; the Strategic Director of Children and Young People’s services at Rotherham MBC; the Community Cohesion Manager and the elected Cabinet Member for Cohesion.

It has just been revealed that a leaked report of the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) upheld six complaints against South Yorkshire Police. The force

ignored crimes [of abuse against children] for fear of stoking racial tensions.

IOPC Operation Linden was launched in 2014 with the watchdog conducting 91 independent investigations into the allegations that senior officers failed in their statutory duty to protect children between 1999 and 2011. The full report is expected to be published later this year.

It seems to us that the innocence of many children, in Rotherham and surrounding areas, has been sacrificed on the altar of 'Community Cohesion'. This expression only came into general use following the Cantle Community Cohesion Review in 2001. By strange coincidence it appears that Ted Cantle was Chief Executive of Nottingham City Council between 1990 and 2001. More details on the background of the Cantle Review can be found under the sub-heading 'UK Actions to improve Community Cohesion' in our article The Shared Societies Project.

Distinguishing the Rotherham and Nottingham CSE Inquiries

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham 1997 – 2013 highlighted the fact that 'approximately 1400 children were sexually exploited over the full Inquiry period ... were raped by multiple perpetrators, trafficked to other towns and cities in the north of England, abducted, beaten, and intimidated.' This earlier report by Professor Jay referenced

abuse committed by Pakistani-heritage perpetrators on white girls in Rotherham.

In contrast, the Nottingham Jay report stresses that 'between the late 1970s and 2019, 16 residential staff were convicted of sexual abuse of children in residential care, 10 foster carers were convicted of sexual abuse of their foster children, and the Inquiry is aware of 12 convictions relating to the harmful sexual behaviour of children against other children in care. The offences in residential care took place in Beechwood and a number of other children’s residential units.'

The types of sexual abuse alleged in the Nottingham investigation varies widely. It includes 'repeated rapes and other sexual assaults, related physical abuse, voyeurism and sexually inappropriate physical contact. The abuse was carried out by a range of perpetrators, including residential care staff, foster carers and their relatives, and children in care.'

Despite these obvious differences we have noted some glaring similarities. The common threads present in both the earlier Rotherham and more recent Nottingham CSE scandals being the multi-stakeholder / partnership working arrangements and the obvious presence in each council of Common Purpose trained operatives occupying senior positions. 

In relation to Nottingham today do Common Purpose trained leaders still occupy key leadership roles? In the interests of brevity, for the purpose of today's analysis, we will focus on Nottingham City Council and One Nottingham.

Evidence of Common Purpose Graduates among Nottingham City Council's Current Senior Management Structure and One Nottingham

Ruby Bhattal, a member of the 2015 Chief Executives Group, is still head of communications and marketing at Nottingham City Council today. Her earlier 2015 LinkedIn profile described her as ‘owner’ of the Common Purpose Nottingham Meridian Cohort 2010. Since 2015 she has also been a Trustee at Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature.

Alison Michalska, was Director Children and Families at Nottingham City Council between October 2013 and November 2019. She was succeeded by Helen Blackman who is now described as Director of Children's Social Care, Vulnerable Children And Families.

The Chief Executive Group has been reduced from six to five members with Ian Curryer, Chief Executive, now being the only known Common Purpose Graduate. Curryer was previously director of social services, Nottingham City Council, 2008 - 2012. Curryer's predecessor, Jane Todd OBE, Chief Executive 2008 - 2013, is also a Common Purpose Matrix Graduate 1992. Previously she had been Regional Director, Government Office for the East Midlands, Nottingham. Currently, she is Acting Chief Executive of Nottingham Community and Voluntary Service and sits as a member of the One Nottingham Chief Officer's Group. She is also Chair of One Nottingham.

The One Nottingham Board still includes three other Common Purpose Graduates. Nigel Cooke, Director, One Nottingham; Professor Cecile Wright, Nottingham Equal, VCS (BAME) Representative, and, Mike Khouri-Bent, Let’s Move Nottingham, Business Representative. One significant difference we have noted is that, in contrast to 2015, no member now sits on both the Nottingham City Council Chief Executives Group and the One Nottingham Boards.

The Children's Partnership Board now has twenty three members although we have been unable to positively identify any Common Purpose members today. In 2015 the Children's Partnership Board included three Common Purpose graduates within its ranks.


Those that failed children who were sexually abused whilst in the care of the Nottingham Councils 'included elected members, senior managers, frontline social work and residential staff and foster carers within both of the Nottingham Councils, and Nottinghamshire Police.' 

Although publication of the Jay report has highlighted historical and existing systemic failures at Nottingham councils, including weaknesses of policy and practice, once again it appears to have missed a common feature also present in Rotherham. In 2015, prior to the commencement of the Nottingham Inquiry we had already published our discovery of a network of Common Purpose graduates operating across the councils and One Nottingham. Just as it had done in Rotherham, the Jay Inquiry either failed to identify this Common Purpose network or deliberately omitted to mention them in its' report.

We ask: Was this by accident or design?