The mother of a disgraced orphanage operator is trying to reopen a house closed by inspectors last year due to “serious and widespread breakdowns” using a new company with a different name.
Ofsted is deciding whether to allow a house in Bolton to reopen after the local council, which cannot legally block the move, raised objections to the inspectorate.
Bolton’s director of children’s services said the case had raised “deep concern” about the residential care sector.
Alison McGuinness is the mother of Robert McGuinness, a former Lamborghini driving pub owner who was exposed by the Guardian last year for spending thousands of pounds on educating marginalized children about drinking, overseas travel and his pub business.
Along with Robert’s father, Francis, the McGuinnesses ran the Achieve Nursing Homes. They ran a house in Bolton, which Ofsted closed last January after inspectors found that the children’s basic care needs were not being met by very inexperienced staff.
Staff have not entered any bedroom for more than four months, despite traces of flies and a “pungent odor” that has spread throughout the house, Ofsted inspectors have discovered.
Alison McGuinness has set up a new company called Strive Services which has applied to reopen the Bolton house under a different name. According to the Strive website, Moses Gate House is pending registration with Ofsted and will be “a children’s therapy home providing accommodation for up to two children aged between 8 and 18”.
Bolton Council has written to Ofsted about Strive’s links with McGuinness, saying they will not be placing children there.
Ofsted said it could not comment on individual cases, but all applications for registration are subject to a “rigorous suitability assessment, including full background checks, experience and knowledge of applicants” and a visit by inspectors.
Kate O’Brien, Director of Care and Operations at Strive Services, said: “Strive works with Bolton Council in a transparent manner regarding the process they usually follow when a company wants to provide this type of service. Strive is working with Bolton Council and Ofsted to achieve a positive outcome for all concerned.”
She declined to answer a number of questions, including whether Alison McGuinness had set up a new business so that Ofsted would not be aware that some of the same people were involved in Bolton’s attempt to reopen the house. McGuinness did not provide any comments of her own.
In addition to running Achieve Nursing Homes, Robert McGuinness and his father also ran a community service company (CIC) called the Achieve Training Centre, which provided vocational training to children excluded from mainstream schools.
The Guardian’s inquiry found that Bolton and Bury local authorities paid the CIC £1.5m between 2015 and 2021.
Profits from the CIC should have benefited the community, but instead Robert McGuinness, a plasterer turned publican, borrowed £100,000 from the company for his bar. Thousands from the CIC bank account were also spent on social life and trips to Spain, Portugal, Belgium and Thailand.
Although Robert McGuinness is not listed as a Strive director, when the Guardian contacted the company for comment, his lawyer responded. The lawyer said that Robert McGuinness had returned the money in full and that “in the highest degree Achieve has helped cash flow” in the pub industry.
Bernie Brown, Bolton Council’s director of children’s services, said the case showed why the orphanage registration process needed to be more connected.
“The current system involves Ofsted, social services and local planning authorities at different stages but with limited coordination between different agencies,” she said: who should be allowed to register homes, where they should stay and what children to put there.
She said there are many excellent orphanages run by both private companies and local authorities. However, he believes the current regulatory landscape is problematic and wants a change in the law to close a “loophole” in planning regulations that allows service providers to apply for change of use and open a home with limited experience.
“This is deeply concerning, especially as high-quality internships are so rare,” she said.
Although Bolton council says it will not place children in Strive, neighboring Bury council said it is already working with the company and has so far paid the company around £17,000 to look after one young person. While awaiting Ofsted registration for Moses Gate House, Strive already runs Astley Brook House, supporting accommodation for 16-18 year olds in Bolton that does not require Ofsted registration.
After the Guardian exposed Robert McGuinness last year, Bury said he would stop sending children to Achieve.
“We were not aware of the connection between the directors of this company and the directors of Achieve. Our client team had no direct contact with Alison McGuinness and we had no concerns about the internship.
“We will now take a closer look at the matter and decide what is best for the young person,” a council spokesman said.