At the council’s policy committee meeting on 8 April, Councillor Tony Jones asked Deborah Jenkins, the chair of Brighter Futures for Children (BFfC), and managing director Antony Kildare how confident they were about keeping within their partly-council-funded budget.

BFfC is an ‘arms-length’ not-for-profit company wholly owned by RBC. It is funded with £135 million of public money in 2019/20; £49.9 million from RBC, £83.1 million from the Department for Education and £2 million from other sources. BFfC was set up in December 2018 to manage RBC’s children’s services because Ofsted (the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills) rated the council’s children’s services inadequate in 2016.

Councillor Jones asked Mr Kildare and Ms Jenkins:

How confident are you that the company [BFfC] will be able to live within its means? The first thing is that we improve services for children… [but] can you also live within the financial budgets… we have been able to establish with you?

Source (video: 1:06).

BFfC managing director (MD) Mr Kildare replied:

I am committed, as the managing director, to ensure we deliver against the budget that has been set.

We do recognise… that this is going to be a challenge; it’s a stretch, but we also believe there are some… things we can look at to simplify, strengthen and improve, and we are afforded an excellent opportunity, by being a limited company, slightly separate from the council, to look at alternative sources of funding…

Source (video: 1:09).

BFfC chair Deborah Jenkins added:

We’re absolutely committed to it. I would be foolish if I ever said there would be 100% certainty we would do this.

We’re very positive about this [extremely challenging plan], and if we can achieve it, that is going to be a major milestone within the country. We should be under no illusion that what we’re trying to achieve is a real stretch, but we believe that it’s possible.

There will be difficult points during the year… when we’ll have to make decisions we won’t enjoy, but we’ll have to do that because we’re committed to the money we’ve managed to jointly agree.

Source (video: 1:10).

BFfC services are, or soon will be, available from sites across the town, including the South Reading Community Hub and the Whitley Health Centre, both on Northumberland Avenue, as well as the Pinecroft children’s home on Monksbarn and the Cressingham children’s home on Cressingham Road.

Who are Deborah Jenkins and Antony Kildare?
BFfC chair Deborah Jenkins. Photo courtesy of BFfC.

BFfC chair Deborah Jenkins. Photo courtesy of BFfC.

Deborah Jenkins is BFfC’s board chair. At the time of writing, Companies House says she is also a company director at Trades4Care Project CIC, Cultura Trust, NCFE, Together for Children Sunderland, her own consultancy Kindling Ltd, and the Derwent Initiative. She is also a deputy lord lieutenant of Tyne and Wear, advises charities such as Leo’s, and is on the board of trustees of the North of England Civic Trust.

BFfC managing director Antony Kildare. Photo courtesy of BFfC.

BFfC managing director Antony Kildare. Photo courtesy of BFfC.

BFfC’s MD is Antony Kildare, a former board member at the Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust (BSUH). Companies House says he is currently a board member at the Health and Europe Centre and chief executive of the Medway Community Healthcare CIC.

When asked if this was a full and accurate set of their other professional commitments, how much time they would be spending with BFfC, and how much they were being paid for it, BFfC issued a statement:

… [Ms Deborah Jenkins’] contract as chair is for between four and eight days per month but she regularly does more and makes herself available to us remotely seven days a week. She is not paid for travel time.

Her other directorships and business interests are irrelevant. She is fully committed to her role as BFfC chair and is in the Reading office several days a month. Her fees are paid by the DfE [Department for Education] and we are neither at liberty nor prepared to disclose them.

Mr Antony Kildare… is also a non-executive director and chair of Medway Community Healthcare. His commitment to the latter is four days per month. Despite being employed at BFfC for four days per week, he works, on average, for 50 hours per week for us, excluding travel time.

We do not disclose individual salaries, but can assure you that Mr Kildare was appointed through a national open recruitment process.

Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust

Mr Kildare had been a non-executive director on the board at BSUH for several years when, in April 2016, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) rated it inadequate. By August 2016, the CQC recommended that the trust should be put into special measures for quality.

CQC criticisms of BSUH leadership included:

Staff in general reported a culture of bullying and harassment and a lack of equal opportunity. Staff from BME [black and minority ethnic] and protected characteristics groups reported that bullying, harassment and discrimination was rife in the organisation with inequality of opportunity.

These cultural issues had been longstanding within the trust without effective board action.

BME staff felt there was a culture of fear and of doing the wrong thing.

The executive team failed on multiple occasions to provide resources or support to clinical staff in critical care to improve safety and working conditions and there was no acknowledgement from this team that they understood the problems staff identified.

Source (PDF).

In the same report, the CQC rated BSUH services for children and young people as outstanding:

The children’s ED [emergency department] was innovative and well led, ensuring that children were seen promptly and given effective care. Careful attention had been paid to the needs of children attending with significant efforts taken to reassure them and provide the best possible age appropriate care.

Source (PDF).

The BSUH interim chief executive Dr Gillian Fairfield apologised for the trust’s failures, and Mr Kildare was appointed interim board chair. In October 2016 the CQC put the trust into financial special measures because, as BSUH itself reported, “it was no longer credible to report that [we] would meet [our] agreed end-of-year deficit of £15.6 million.” Mr Kildare left the trust in 2017.

By August 2017, the CQC said that the trust had significantly improved. BFfC said:

All of this was done under Mr Kildare’s chairmanship of the board. This was a huge achievement in less than 12 months.

In January 2019, the CQC recommended that BSUH should be taken out of special measures, saying:

Staff told inspectors that they had seen a dramatic change in the past six to nine months [ie, since about April 2018]. They described this change as powerful, positive and felt included in the strategy and overall change.

In the past staff said they had not always felt supported but the new executive team gave them the confidence to raise concerns and they felt assured that their concerns would be listened to and acted on appropriately.


BFfC said:

Mr Kildare… was a non-executive director at BSUH and was appointed as interim chair by NHS Improvement to lead the trust’s improvement journey after the trust was placed into special measures, following years of poor performance, struggling to respond to patient needs in aged wards and deteriorated estate against unprecedented demand pressures from local communities across east Sussex and the wider health system.

He then developed the improvement plan which was put into place. He was specifically dealing with the issues you have highlighted, rather than being part of them.

In addition, BSUH’s financial position was well known for many years and was not ‘fixable’ overnight. Similarly, a large and complex development was commenced to create the modern hospital environment so desperately needed to serve patient needs in Kent, Surrey and Sussex.

The circumstances and challenging issues were specific to the provision of health, acute and trauma services for Sussex and the South East and have no relevance to Reading or the important work we are doing here to improve children’s services.

Both Ms Jenkins and Mr Kildare are mindful of the financial constraints and difficulties faced in Reading’s children’s services and the need to improve performance.

The council’s response

The Whitley Pump asked RBC councillors Liz Terry (lead for children’s services) and Tony Jones if they were aware of Mr Kildare’s history at BSUH, and if RBC were involved in his recruitment.

The council said that Councillor Jones was not involved in Mr Kildare’s recruitment, and Councillor Terry added:

The appointment of Antony Kildare to the position of managing director of BFfC was made following an open recruitment process.

This process involved RBC, the chair of the company, the Children’s Commissioner and a representative of the Department for Education who all agreed Mr Kildare’s appointment.

  1. Reading Borough Council and its Ofsted reports
  2. Brighter Futures for Children
  3. Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust and its CQC reports
  4. CQC
  5. Brighter Futures for Children at Companies House