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Misfire in race to be academy sponsor

Bernie Ecclestone, the controversial billionaire motorsports impresario, was among the potential sponsors being considered for two academies in Sheffield.

The city council confirmed reports that a trust, established by the colourful Formula One president, had been lined up as a potential backer for the planned academies, due to open later this year. Also in the running was Lord Sainsbury, the Department for Trade and Industry minister.

However, the council ultimately decided to go with the Church of England-linked United Learning Trust, rather than give either of the two academies planned for the city go-faster stripes.

The 76-year-old Mr Ecclestone, worth an estimated pound;2.2bn, was recently ranked as the 13th richest man in Britain. He was involved in controversy in 1997 after critics linked his pound;1 million donation to the Labour party, before that year's general election, with the new government's decision to exempt Formula One from the tobacco sponsorship ban. Labour returned the money, despite both parties saying there had been no connection.

Mr Ecclestone had been identified as a possible backer by Richard Caborn, the sports minister and MP for Sheffield Central. Mr Ecclestone was not available for comment and his office was unable to say whether he plans to back further academies.

A spokesman for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport said that Mr Caborn and Mr Ecclestone had a good relationship through the former's role as sports minister, but declined to comment further.

The United Learning Trust is involved with 11 academies, including existing ones in Manchester, Salford, Northampton and Lambeth. Myrtle Springs and Waltheof schools in Sheffield will reopen this September as the Sheffield Springs and Sheffield Park academies respectively. Both will specialise in business and enterprise, with Sheffield Springs also specialising in the performing arts.

The sponsors' names were revealed in a Freedom of Information request by the Yorkshire Post.

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