New interim director of Norfolk County Council’s children’s services ‘exonerated’ after suspension from previous job

Matt Dunkley, the new interim director of Norfolk County Council's children's services department. P

Matt Dunkley, the new interim director of Norfolk County Council's children's services department. Pic: Norfolk County Council. - Credit: Norfolk County Council

The new interim chief of Norfolk's much criticised children's services department was suspended from his previous job when he was caught up in an anti-corruption investigation.

Andrew Bunyan. Pic: Norfolk County Council.

Andrew Bunyan. Pic: Norfolk County Council. - Credit: Norfolk County Council

But Norfolk County Council said on Wednesday afternoon that Matt Dunkley was the right man to take the troubled department forward and had been exonerated after the suspension.

Mr Dunkley, CBE, a former director of children's services in East Sussex, will become interim director of Norfolk County Council's children's services next month.

But during his previous job as regional director for the Department of Education and Training in Victoria, Australia, he was caught up in an investigation into an online learning management system called Ultranet.

Investigators from the Independent Broad-Based Anti Corruption Commission (IBAC) were looking into the awarding of contracts for the botched product.

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A phone-tapped conversation between Mr Dunkley and a colleague formed part of the evidence presented at a hearing in March last year.

The colleague was a witness in the hearing and investigators played an expletive-filled recording from Mr Dunkley made in October 2014.

In that recording, Mr Dunkley was heard telling a former education department executive that he had previously told him that he had 'destroyed' evidence.

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Mr Dunkley was not a witness or part of the investigation but he was suspended following the hearing last year.

A spokesperson for Norfolk County Council said: 'Matt was entirely exonerated by the investigation into the matter, reinstated into post and appointed to conduct additional assignments as an executive for the Victorian government until the conclusion of his visa at the end of this month.

'Our selection process includes the usual due diligence, and includes an excellent reference from Matt's current employer in the Victoria government.

'We are fully confident Matt has the necessary skills and experience to lead Children's Services in Norfolk forward in the manner we require.'

Mr Dunkley will take over from current interim director, consultant Andrew Bunyan.

Mr Bunyan only took on that role in November, following the resignation of Michael Rosen, who was a permanent appointment.

Mr Bunyan, who had provided mentoring advice to the authority previously, said at the time that he did not want the role permanently.

Norfolk County Council said Mr Dunkley, who was honoured by The Queen in 2014 for his services to children and families, would be in place 'to see the council through its next full Ofsted inspection of children's services, where it aims to create a clear path towards a solid 'good' rating'.

Mr Dunkley is also a past President of the Association of Directors of Children's Services and has been working in Australia for the past three and a half years.

He was a regional director for the department of education and training in Victoria, and latterly has led a review of mental health services across government.

He said: 'In Norfolk, I am keen to build on the 'green shoots' of recovery highlighted by both Ofsted and the DfE commissioner in their recent reports, as well as responding to the issues of pace of improvement in leadership they identified.

'There is clearly much improved practice in many parts of Norfolk children's services and staff in the service have been working hard on improvement and deserve recognition for what they have already achieved.

'My job will be to consolidate that progress while addressing the remaining areas where we need to improve faster to reach the required standard.'

Wendy Thomson, Norfolk County Council's managing director, said: 'We are very excited about the opportunity to work with Matt, who will lead our improvement drive through the period when Ofsted is expected to return to inspect our children's social care services.

'Matt is a well-respected figure in this field and he will also help us to recruit a permanent director while he is with us.'

When Ofsted rated the department inadequate in 2013, it led to the resignation of children's services director Lisa Christensen. She was succeeded by interim Sheila Lock, who was succeeded by Mr Rosen, who was a permanent appointment, in 2015.

Mr Rosen resigned in November after a critical monitoring report by Ofsted inspectors, who raised concerns over the pace of change and the strategy for the department.

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