Redundant GM staff turn to Blair for help

Staff made redundant three months ago from the Government-funded company set up to promote opting out are still awaiting payoffs totalling more than Pounds 66,000.

They have now urged the Prime Minister, whose son attends a grant-maintained school, to end the delays, saying they are being used as pawns in a political game.

The majority of the 23 former employees of the Grant-Maintained Schools Foundation claim they are due at least the statutory minimum redundancy payment.

All say they are owed one month's gross salary in lieu of notice plus outstanding holiday and sickness pay. Other creditors are understood to include a car lease firm which is owed Pounds 10,000.

The foundation, set up by the Conservatives and funded by the Department for Education and Employment, ceased trading at the end of June.

Directors originally planned to put the private company into the hands of liquidators, but two creditors' meetings were cancelled.

It is understood that the Government is now bailing out the organisation despite Stephen Byers, the school standards minister, having told Parliament that there was no further need to allocate funds to the Foundation.

In a letter to Tony Blair, ex-employee Wendy Hedland urged the Prime Minister to intervene.

"Former mainstream staff have felt for some considerable time that we are being used as pawns in some sort of political game."

She said the majority had no political axe to grind and added: "Several members of staff, some of whom are single parents with young families to support, are suffering severe financial problems because of the undue and unnecessary delay."

Sir Robert Balchin, chairman of the foundation, said: "The DFEE is supplying funds to the Foundation so that employees can be paid. As soon as the money is received it will be passed over.

"Some creditors have already been paid. Others have been passed to the DFEE for approval.

"I am quite satisfied that within a month the foundation will be wound up and the staff and creditors will have been fully paid."

Most of the foundation's annual DFEE grant of around Pounds 800,000, went on staff salaries in London and regional offices. As a private company limited by guarantee it is not required to submit detailed accounts to Companies House. The directors are not liable for any debt.

The previous government had set aside Pounds 840,000 in grant this year - in the end though only Pounds 213,000 was paid until the end of June. And the new Labour Government announced that Pounds 330,000 from the foundation's grant would be spent on summer literacy schemes.

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