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Exclusive: Former academy trustee’s firm billed more than £6m in ‘related-party’ payments

An IT company run by a former academy trustee has billed millions in related-party transactions in the past five years

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An IT company run by a former academy trustee has billed millions in related-party transactions in the past five years

An IT company has received millions of pounds from multi-academy trusts that its managing director has been involved with, including as a trustee.

Gaia Technologies Plc, run by Anas Mawla, has received more than £6.3 million in “related-party transactions” since 2011-12.

Related-party transactions involve payments from an academy trust to an organisation or person connected to the trust.

They are permitted under the Academies Financial Handbook, provided that open and transparent procurement procedures have been followed, and any potential conflicts of interest are adequately and appropriately managed.

Mr Mawla’s company describes itself as “the leading, DfE approved provider of ICT products, ICT services, ICT solutions & ICT Managed Services to UK schools, colleges & universities”.

Mr Mawla served as a trustee at Academy Transformation Trust (ATT) between November 2011 and June 2014, academy accounts show.

During this time, the trust paid out £558,615 to his company.

He continued to serve as a member of the trust until June 2015. In 2014-15, his company was paid £695,324.

The latest available accounts, for 2015-2016, show that no payments were made to Gaia Technologies during that period.

The trust has yet to file accounts for 2016 to 2017, but a spokesperson for the trust told Tes: “Academy Transformation Trust is still using the services of Gaia and has spent £1,892,199.34 with Gaia since 2015."

This takes the total spent by ATT on its former trustee’s firm to more than £3.1 million to date.

Fears over financial management

Concern over financial management prompted the Education Funding Agency (EFA) to mount an investigation into ATT earlier this year.

In its report, published in March, the Education Funding Agency – which has since been renamed the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) – stated that there had been “insufficient financial expertise on the board” and “inadequate financial management at the trust”. It is understood that the EFA’s concerns did not arise from related-party payments.

A spokesperson for ATT said: “I can confirm that the monies paid to Gaia Technologies complied with the regulations and guidelines published by the Education Funding Agency.”

ATT has not responded to a request from Tes for comment on the EFA’s report into the trust.

Mr Mawla was also a trustee at Shelfield Community Academy in the West Midlands from July 2012 until January 2014.

The academy joined Ormiston Academies Trust (OAT) in September 2014 and is now called Ormiston Shelfield Community Academy.

Between 2013 and 2015, Gaia Technologies was paid more than £3 million by the Ormiston Trust, of which more than £1.3 million was billed to Shelfield before it was taken on by its new sponsor.

Mr Mawla was never a trustee of OAT.

An OAT spokesperson said: “Gaia Technologies Plc historically provided ICT services to Shelfield Community Academy. These services were procured through a competitive tender process, which was run by the local authority.”

Gaia’s appointment was fully compliant with the Academies Financial Handbook at the time, the spokesperson said. When the rules on related-party transactions changed in 2014, Mr Mawla immediately resigned from the governing body to ensure the academy was compliant with the new guidance.

“The school ended its managed services contract with Gaia in 2015, with broadband and third-line support coming to an end in 2016,” said the spokesperson.

There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing on the part of Mr Mawla or the academies concerned, and the trusts’ accounts confirm that they are aware of the need to comply with the Academies Financial Handbook and that no instances of material irregularity, impropriety or funding non-compliance have been discovered.

The latest accounts for Gaia Technologies Plc state that the firm made £14.1 million in gross profit for the 15 months until the end of March this year and that more than 98 per cent of its business comes from government departments.

The extent to which Gaia Technologies has benefited from related-party transactions in recent years comes amid continued concern over the nature of payments to companies with links to schools.

The issue of related-party payments was brought up during a hearing of the Commons Education Select Committee last month, when education secretary Justine Greening told MPs that the government had “significantly” tightened up the rules on related-party transactions.

She said: “I have asked [academies minister] Lord Agnew to look at how effectively boards can operate and whether we need to take further steps in relation to that.”

The ESFA’s latest accounts revealed that it was looking at 47 trusts in respect of related-party transactions “where further work is necessary by the academy trusts to demonstrate compliance with our requirements”.

It did not name any academy trust and there is no suggestion that OAT or ATT are among the 47.

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