LocatED was registered with Companies House last September but was officially launched in March.
Since then, it has bought 14 permanent sites for free schools, including a former factory site in Birmingham and several former schools, ranging in size from 1 acre to 8.48 acres. A document, sent in response to a Tes’ freedom-of-information request, does not provide details of any temporary accommodation purchased.
The DfE would not disclose how much LocatED had paid for the 14 sites or how this compares with official market valuations.
Its FOI response says that valuations are carried out as required by the Treasury, but “are treated as commercially confidential documents”.
However, information such as this has been published before and is crucial in assessing LocatED’s performance.
Last year’s National Audit Office report on schools capital funding found that 20 sites bought by the government had exceeded their official valuation by more than 60 per cent, “indicating that the department had to pay a premium to secure the land required”.
While, the DfE’s business case does not provide details of any temporary accommodation purchased, it shows that it believes LocatED can generally access better deals, partly by attracting a high calibre of staff and by having “a more distinct commercial identity”.
It says that this will “overcome the feedback we have received from the property market where we have not been able to pursue some acquisitions because of negative perceptions about dealing directly with government”.
But the DfE is likely to come under pressure to release more details about such a well-funded project, particularly at a time when the government is demanding high accountability from cash-strapped schools.
Valentine Mulholland, head of policy for the NAHT headteachers’ union, says: “Schools are expected to have complete transparency in their budgets. It’s not unreasonable to expect the same when it comes to how the DfE spends its money on free schools and other large-scale projects. There have been plenty of stories of the DfE paying over the odds for land and other facilities, and that’s just not right when it’s well known that individual school budgets are at breaking point.”
Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, believes that the NAO will be returning to the free schools programme, as well as looking at LocatED’s work. She says: “You can run but you can’t hide: this is taxpayers’ money and we have every right to know how it’s being spent.”