Schools being asset-stripped by academy trusts

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THE HOUSE of Commons education committee has written to the Tory academies minister, Lord Agnew, expressing MPs’ concern about a ‘lack of transparency and accountability’ surrounding multi-academy trusts (MATs).

What has stirred up even the Tory MP Robert Halfon who chairs this committee is the fact that schools who are forced to join these MATs are not receiving ‘value for money’ but are also being ‘asset-stripped’ when the trust fails.

Halfon wrote: ‘We are particularly concerned by the extent to which failing trusts are stripping assets from their schools. It is not clear to us that all schools are benefiting from joining MATs, or that trusts are providing value for money.’

What prompted this soul-searching by these MPs was the collapse of one of the Tories’ flagship academy trusts in September last year. Wakefield City Academies Trust (WACT) announced on its website that it was pulling out of all its 21 academies after it had transferred millions of pounds of the school savings into its own accounts.

This money that both the schools and parents naturally assumed belonged to them, in fact turned out under law to be the sole property of WACT to do with what it liked. Although at the time when the school funds were transferred to the trust’s accounts they were told it was a loan that would be repaid, when the WACT collapsed the trust ‘no longer acknowledges the transactions as loans’.

Harmsworth Arts and Community Academy, a secondary school in Pontefract, had £220,000 that had been raised by volunteers at Christmas markets and other events transferred into WACT’s accounts.

A draft report issued immediately after the collapse of WACT under a mountain of debt revealed that asset stripping schools of their funds is not the only way these private ‘not for profit’ companies make a fortune out of the public education system.

The chief executive, Mike Ramsay, had been paid more than £82,000 for 15 weeks’ work, despite the fact that the trust was facing a large budget deficit while it emerged that the trust had paid almost £440,000 to IT and clerking companies owned by Ramsay and his daughter.

More than half of all secondary schools in England are run as academies along with more than a fifth of all primary schools. In 2012, the Tories announced their intention to force every school in England to become an academy by 2022.

The entire education system under the Tory plan will be wide open to exploitation by the privateers who will have complete control over the money, even from jumble sales, and over school land like playing fields which can be sold off to property developers for a rich profit.

With academy chains given complete freedom by the Tories to asset strip the education system at will, at least 900 schools and colleges in England face the additional threat to services like catering and facilities management from the collapse of Carillion.

What is clear is that British capitalism in its dotage is driven to seek profit from the privatisation of every single public service, from education to the NHS. On the same day that Halfon’s letter was published, a report by the national Audit Office showed that the taxpayers will be forced to hand over £200 billion to private contractors under private finance deals for the next 25 years!

This is asset-stripping on a massive scale – the wholesale looting of public services for the profit of a handful of capitalists who, when they can no longer make a profit, will simply walk away with their millions, leaving schools and hospitals in a state of collapse and the working class made to pick up the tab for their crisis.

The answer to this is not to call for the Tories to implement more ‘oversight’ as the MPs ask, the answer is to kick out the minority Tory government and go forward to a workers government that will kick out the privateers, nationalise industry and the banks and use their huge profits to provide a decent education and health system for all in a socialist society.