Bolton University Technical College has been severely criticised for mismanagement of its finances in a report released by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) today. Because of its concerns, the ESFA has now issued a financial notice to improve to the college, setting out the actions it has to take. These include an action plan which responds to the issues identified in the ESFA’s report, and setting out clear lines of accountability.
The ESFA sent in a team to review the college last July, after “concerns about financial management and governance” were raised by an anonymous whistleblower. Just months earlier, the college had been placed in special measures after an Ofsted inspection found it to be "inadequate".
The report states that the team found “a number of significant failings and weaknesses in governance arrangements that breach the Academies Financial Handbook (AFH) and validate the concerns raised”. It found eight breaches of the rules set out in the AFH.
The college did not have “clear leadership structures and adequate governance frameworks” and its board “failed to hold senior leaders to account and demonstrate economy, efficiency and effectiveness over key decisions with financial impacts” according to the report.
No proper procurement processes
It added that the college’s use of related parties “to provide key functions” without going through “a proper procurement and contracting process” was “inherently irregular”.
The report stated that there was “inadequate management of conflicts of interest between the trust and connected parties” in expenditure amounting to £920,152.
The college has been warned that it “needs to take urgent action to resolve the issues, including regularising procurement and expenditure with connected and/or related parties”. It has been issued with a series of recommendations by ESFA, which include the college undertaking “an independent review of finance and governance to fully identify all issues”.
A spokesperson for the college said: "UTC Bolton will continue to work closely with the ESFA, Department for Education and University of Bolton to ensure the highest level of governance and continued compliance with the Academies Financial Handbook is achieved".