A DAMNING investigation has found that individuals who sit on the board of the south London Durand Adademy Trust were also acting as directors of companies from which the academy trust purchased services.
A ‘conflict of interest’ would amount to the academy ‘paying itself’ with public money for services that it already had ‘vested interests’ in.
Public finances watchdog, the National Audit Office (NAO) investigated claims of ‘conflicts of interests’ at the flagship academy in Stockwell.
The NAO investigation revealed 17 other academy trusts were involved in ‘irregular or improper transactions’.
Lecturers’ union UCU told News Line: ‘UCU is wholly opposed to taxpayers’ money being used to line the pockets of those selling expensive products to academies and colleges, so it is only right that the National Audit Office investigates this kind of back-door privatisation.
‘The Department for Education has specifically stated that schools should not be run for profit, but it must take strong action to close loopholes which allow unscrupulous academy leaders to abuse the system in this way.’
Durand Academy Trust runs an infant and a junior school in Stockwell, and a small free state boarding school in Sussex, which opened this term and draws an income from leisure facilities and accommodation that it itself owns in south London.
One example of a ‘conflict of interest’ involved monthly payments of £20,000 to a media relations company called Political Lobbying and Media Relations Limited.
The majority owner of this company, Kevin Craig, became the Durand Academy Trust’s vice-chairman at a later date.
There were also concerns raised over the salary of Durand’s executive head teacher, Greg Martin, which rose from £146,415 in 2011-12 to £229,138 in 2012-13 (including salary and pension contributions) – a pay rise of 56% in a single year.
The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, which publishes NAO reports, calls on the agency over-seeing academies, the EFA (Education Funding Agency), to ‘get to grips with’ any potentially ‘dubious business relationships’ within these state-funded but independently run schools.
Its chairman Margaret Hodge said: ‘It feels just wrong that individuals sitting on the board of the Durand Academy Trust could set up such a complex web of organisations and companies some of which are selling goods and services to the academy.
‘It’s not at all clear if individuals within the trust were improperly benefitting from these companies.’
She added: ‘In 2012-13, 43% (976) of the 2,256 academy trust financial statements revealed related-party transactions, and £8.6m of these payments posed a risk to value for money.
‘I am very concerned that the agency’s reliance on whistleblowers and ad hoc reports means that many more questionable business relationships could exist and have gone unchallenged, putting public money at risk.’