Councils call for oversight of academy finances

26th August 2016 at 00:01
academies, LGA, MATs, justine greening
Local authorities demand change after a string of high-profile cases of improper financial conduct

Councils are demanding the power to monitor academies’ finances following a string of high-profile cases involving improper conduct by academy bosses.

The Local Government Association is calling on education secretary Justine Greening to restore local oversight of all school finances, including academies and free schools.

The move comes after the founder and two members of staff at the Kings Science Academy in Bradford, now known as the Dixons Kings Academy, were found guilty of a £150,000 fraud.

In a separate incident, Liam Nolan, the former chief executive of Perry Beeches Academy Trust in Birmingham, paid £1.3 million to a third party supplier without any contracts.

DfE 'can't monitor all academies' spending'

Cllr Richard Watts, chair of the LGA’s children and young people board, said parents had a right to know that “money for teachers and equipment isn’t instead being spent on first-class train tickets or topping up chief executive salaries”.

“We are told that academies and free schools are subject to more financial scrutiny than council-maintained schools, yet we keep hearing that millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money, which has been earmarked to make sure our children get a good education, is disappearing into the back pockets of those in charge.”

Cllr Watts raised concerns that many recent abuses of academy finances had been uncovered by whistleblowers rather than the Education Funding Agency, which is responsible for their financial oversight.

“The National Audit Office has raised serious concerns about the ability of the Department for Education to effectively monitor academy trusts’ spending, even before the planned expansion of the academy programme, and we don’t believe it can possibly have effective oversight of spending in more than 20,000 schools,” he said. “Centralising control of schools isn't working; oversight needs to be devolved down to local councils.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “All academies operate under a strict system of oversight and accountability – more robust than in council-run schools — ensuring any issues are identified quickly.

"Unlike other schools their accounts are scrutinised by an independent auditor and we have considerably more financial information about academies than we ever had for council-run schools.

“The academy programme puts control of running schools in the hands of teachers and school leaders - the people who know best how to run their schools. They also allow us to tackle underperformance far more swiftly than in a council-run system where many schools have been allowed to fail for years.”

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