Labour's #163;31m dream academy is 'nightmare'

24th September 2010 at 01:00
Leaking roofs, faulty designer toilet seats and management failings set to plunge Bexley flagship into #163;859k deficit

Tony Blair's #163;31 million flagship academy has been branded a "nightmare" by its chief executive and left the school facing a deficit of nearly #163;1 million.

Spiralling maintenance costs at the Bexley Business Academy, opened by the then prime minister just seven years ago, have led to staff being cut as money is spent replacing designer Italian toilets seats and constantly leaking roofs.

It was supposed to set the standard for the academies programme.

Internal documents seen by The TES say the academy will rack up a "potential deficit of #163;859,000 by 2011 if left unaddressed" - a 71 per cent hike on the current figure of #163;500,000.

Chief executive Sam Elms said the expense of replacing high-specification accessories such as taps, toilet seats and door handles shipped from Italy - along with extensive costly and ongoing maintenance - means the school has been forced to introduce a two-year "recovery plan" to bring the deficit down.

Adding that more than half her time is spent sorting out glitches, Ms Elms said: "It's a hugely expensive building and costs us an absolute fortune.

"It's a nightmare to run. If we could move to another building, we would. It's not great, but we do the best we can."

Designed by Sir Norman Foster's architectural practice, the school has been plagued with a leaking roof which continues to baffle experts.

"The roof leaks across the building which causes the floor to bubble," Mrs Elms added.

Now it has been decided to replace broken taps and toilet seats with less expensive models while other austerity measures include restructuring the senior management team.

Mrs Elms admitted that the school, in Thamesmead, London, had been considering making redundancies, but said staff leaving for other jobs over the summer had meant compulsory job losses had been avoided.

"If we don't address the deficit, it will go up," she added.

At the end of last year, the academy drafted in education consultancy Isos Partnership to carry out a review of the management structure in order to make savings.

In a damning series of conclusions, also seen by The TES, it said there was "a lack of clarity about decision making" as well as a "blurring of accountabilities" along with "duplication and inefficiencies".

The review added: "Savings (are) not being made through shared resources... savings will need to be made."

Mrs Elms admitted that the management team had been top heavy but said this was being addressed. "We are making ourselves more efficient. The leadership team is being looked at."

This is being spearheaded by executive principal Christina Moon who was brought in last September.

But Mrs Elms defended the decision to pay nearly #163;20,000 in rent for the London home of Christina Moon - who along with Mrs Elms earns more than #163;120,000 a year.

Mrs Moon's main home is in Bristol, but last year the academy paid the #163;19,200 rent on her Greenwich flat and Mrs Elms confirmed it would be doing the same for the year ahead.

She added: "We appointed Christine a year ago in a temporary post and she's done the most fantastic job.

She's largely orchestrated the recovery plan and she's staying for another year which has had a massive, positive impact on staff morale."

Among the outcomes Isos considered was axing the post of chief executive or executive principal or making both roles part-time.

Bexley's latest accounts in the year to August 2009 reveal seven people earned more than #163;60,000 a year while the academy's wage bill went up by more than #163;200,000 to #163;6.5 million even though staff numbers fell 6 per cent to 234.

Foster and Partners declined to comment.

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