The chief executive of the sight-loss charity the RNIB has stepped down amid allegations that the charity failed to address safeguarding concerns at one of its residential centres.
The charity said today that Sally Harvey, who was appointed acting chief executive in October 2016 before taking on the role permanently last November, had stepped aside after the Charity Commission opened a statutory class inquiry into the RNIB and its subsidiary, the RNIB Charity, over concerns about the safeguarding of vulnerable beneficiaries.
The commission said that the class inquiry related to serious concerns about the oversight and management of the RNIB Pears Centre for Specialist Learning in Coventry, Warwickshire, which is run by the subsidiary charity. On 2 March, the trustees of the charities reported a single serious safeguarding incident that had taken place at the Pears Centre, the commission said in a statement today.
On 16 March, the subsidiary charity also reported to the regulator several other serious incidents that had taken place over the course of last year. It also reported that Ofsted, the regulator for children’s homes and specialist schools, intended to take action against the charity. The commission said the incidents raised concerns that the subsidiary charity might have "consistently failed to comply with regulations designed to safeguard and protect vulnerable children".
The RNIB said in a statement today it had received a notice from Ofsted that it planned to cancel its registration to run the children’s home in Coventry after a series of increasingly poor monitoring reports. It said it has to demonstrate to Ofsted substantial improvements by mid-April.
The charity said it had put in place a service improvement plan in January, but it should have "acted more quickly to make changes".
The commission said it met Ellie Southwood, chair of the charity, and Eliot Lyne, deputy chief executive, on 27 March to discuss the case and opened an inquiry on 29 March.
Lyne told Third Sector this morning that Harvey resigned with immediate effect after the inquiry was opened. He said that she did not receive a pay-off.
He added that a new leadership team had been put in place at the Pears Centre after the incidents that took place.
The charity is also launching its own independent review.
An undisclosed number of staff at the Pears Centre are now facing disciplinary action pending the outcome of the investigations, Lyne added.
He told Third Sector: "Our primary priority is to make sure that the children at Pears are safe and well cared for. I have spent a lot of time personally in the last few weeks making sure that’s the case."
The charity said in a statement that it was "truly sorry" for what had happened.
The commission said that its inquiry would examine the governance, management and oversight of the charities’ safeguarding arrangements, including in particular the trustees’ knowledge and oversight of what happened at the Pears Centre and the charity’s liaison with and reporting to relevant statutory agencies.
Harvey Grenville, head of investigations and enforcement at the Charity Commission, said: "The incidents and shortcomings at the Pears Centre are deeply concerning. The public rightly expects all charities to be places of safety, especially for vulnerable children and young people with complex needs.
"The first priority of the trustees of both charities must now be to ensure that the vulnerable young people cared for at the centre are protected from harm."
The inquiry comes after a difficult year at the sight-loss charity. Last year Third Sector exclusively revealed that more than 50 jobs were at risk at the charity after a division set up by the charity to eliminate its deficit required a £10m subsidy over three years.
The charity’s latest financial accounts for the year to March 2017 show that it posted a deficit of £12.6m on an income of £119.2m.