Revealed: Outcast children’s education money funded Bolton bar owner’s social life | Bolt
The owner of a Bolton children’s home closed for ‘serious and widespread failings’ has spent thousands of dollars meant to educate marginalized children about drinking, overseas travel and his advertising business, May reveal the Guardian.
Between 2015 and 2021, £1.5million was paid by two local authorities to a ‘community benefit corporation’ (CIC) run by Robert McGuinness, the senior manager of the children’s home. The CIC was created to provide vocational training to children in grades 9 to 11 (14-16 years old) excluded from mainstream schools.
The benefits of the CIC should, according to the law, benefit the community. Instead, McGuinness, a Lamborghini driving plasterer turned pub owner, loaned his CIC bar business £100,000. He also spent thousands of dollars from the CIC bank account on his own social life, as well as overseas trips to Spain, Portugal, Belgium and Thailand, the Guardian has learned.
The bar has since gone bankrupt and says the liquidator “there is currently no prospect” of repayment of the £100,000 loan. The case highlights why child welfare experts believe there needs to be ‘seismic change’ across the whole system.
Bank statements seen by the Guardian show that on some nights McGuinness spent hundreds of pounds from the CIC account in bars and restaurants. Over £2,000 was spent on Airbnb stays in a single year and almost £5,000 was spent on pub furniture. A total of £182.78 was spent at a branch of Spar in Praia da Luz, Portugal, and just under £280 was spent in 2019 at an artisan bakery in Manchester.
Achieve Care Homes Limited was established in 2020 by McGuinness, 34, and her parents, Alison and Francis. In January, Ofsted inspectors suspended the license of the company-run children’s home after finding a boy had failed to bathe, change clothes or receive homemade meals for four months.
It was not the first time that Ofsted had expressed serious concerns about a facility run by McGuinness. In September 2020 he attempted to open an independent school in Bolton called Stanley House, charging annual fees of between £22,000 and £40,000 for children expelled from mainstream education.
It never opened after inspectors found many problems including an electrical substation easily accessible to children and the absence of a playground. They also raised concerns that “leaders have not put systems in place to account for each student’s income and expenses that will be funded by a local authority.”
Yet the McGuinness children’s home business got permission Tuesday to turn eight apartments in Bolton into apartments for people leaving care aged 16 to 18. It was classified by the council’s planning committee as a “permitted development” and did not require separate approval. This is despite concerns from the local authority’s head of children’s services about the company.
Until the Guardian confronted him this week, McGuinness was a director of 11 companies, many of which used the ‘Achieve’ brand. On Tuesday he resigned from Achieve Training Center CIC, which still runs two “training centres” in Bury and Bolton in Greater Manchester for children excluded from mainstream education. One is at Stanley House, the site of the abortive school in McGuinness.
The Guardian has seen evidence that the CIC bank account was regularly used to pay staff and contractors working on the refurbishment and management of the Printer’s Apprentice, a bar and restaurant in York town centre. It opened in February 2020, a month before the first lockdown, and went into liquidation in December 2020 owing £411,698.
McGuinness used the CIC debit card to buy groceries, book hotels, eat out and withdraw cash while traveling in Portugal, Belgium and Spain, and Krabi in Thailand. In 2019, the CIC bank account was used to spend over £4,600 in pubs and restaurants and £2,264 on Airbnbs.
Payments from the CIC account included £680 for a pub worker who successfully took McGuinness to an employment tribunal over £7,341 in unpaid wages in 2020, nearly £5,000 for bar furniture and £5,680 to LWC, a supplier of commercial alcohol. A legal adviser who helped the Employment Tribunal received £5,000 from the CIC account.
Additionally, payments totaling £9,632 were changed from CIC to ‘DMD pay’, which stood for Drink Me Dry pay. Drink Me Dry Limited was set up by McGuinness and his father in January 2018 to run the pub.
Bolton and Bury councils were CIC’s largest clients until very recently. Between 2015 and 2021 Bury Council, together with local schools and education providers, have spent £904,537 sending young people from the local Pupils Guidance Unit (PRU) to Achieve Bury, which is located in an industrial area just outside the city center.
Following the Guardian’s investigation, a spokesperson for Bury council said the local authority would no longer place children with Achieve. The PRU was “reviewing current placements with the supplier”, they added.
Bolton Council said it spent £654,340 sending 32 children to Achieve Bury from July 2017 to November 2019. Bolton Director of Children’s Services Bernie Brown said she had stopped using Achieve when it became apparent that the children were “not receiving the formal education that had been commanded”. , sitting around doing math and English and functional skills work. Instead, the children were taken on “tours” of local employers, which did not help them reintegrate into a school setting, she said.
“There has to be a seismic shift and a seismic shift in how we approach this,” she added.
A witness said the work experience involved working on construction sites, including at the Bolton home that McGuinness was converting into a small children’s home.
When asked to explain all of these payments from the CIC account, a CIC lawyer insisted they were legitimate, saying: “Robert McGuinness and other staff have, on occasion, “sacrificed their salary”, so our client directly incurred private expenses on their fees, which fees were then deducted from their compensation.
A liquidator’s report in February revealed that Drink Me Dry owed CIC £100,000. He also owes £125,000 to McGuinness and £52,468 to AMG Properties Limited, which is run by his parents.
CIC’s lawyer said CIC’s £100,000 loan came from “profits from its business”, although CIC’s annual accounts show less than £8,000 in profit in 2019 and less than £3,000 in the current year. previous year when Drink Me Dry was first created.
It was “a normal business loan that is repaid on its terms,” the attorney said. However, the liquidator’s report indicates “that there is currently no prospect of a dividend to unsecured creditors”, including CIC.
CIC’s lawyer said the regulator investigated and reviewed the circumstances of the loan in 2021 and took no further action.
Councils do not license or regulate children’s homes and do not have the regulatory power to close providers. None of the Achieve training centers have ever been registered by Ofsted, which inspects individual buildings – children’s homes, schools, etc. – but not the operators. This means that businesses can suffer many poor inspections and continue to operate and open new businesses.
A representative for Achieve Care Homes Ltd and Robert, Alison and Francis McGuinness did not respond to a request for comment, but said: ‘We don’t know about this – you should ask Achieve CIC.’