One of the most appalling measures contained within George Osborne's 2016 "Budget of Failure" was the announcement of the outrageous Tory policy of force privatising every publicly owned school in England into the hands of unaccountable private sector pseudo-charities (many owned and operated by major Tory party donors).
Forcibly taking schools out of local authority control (even if the local community strongly opposes the plans) and handing them over (property deeds and all) to the kind of people who are queueing up to get their hands on chunks of free infrastructure and big slices of the taxpayer funded education budgets is an appalling idea.
The fact that these academy chains are pretty much impossible to remove once they've been gifted control of the school (no matter how poor the results, or how much fraud is going on there) is one of the major objections, several other serious objections are detailed in this article.
Just a week after the Tory plot to privatise every publicly owned school in England was unveiled a damning report into the Perry Beeches academy chain (which runs five schools in Birmingham) was released.
Here are some of the findings:
- Perry Beeches diverted almost £1.3 million in taxpayers' money into secretive off-the-books payments to a company called "Nexus Schools Limited".
- Financial fraud was committed because payments to Nexus were not included in the academy chain's 2013-14 accounts.
- Nexus subcontracted work the school gave them to a company called "Liam Nolan Limited".
- The sole director of Liam Nolan Limited is one Liam Nolan, who just happens to be the Accounting Officer and Chief Executive of Perry Beeches Academy Trust!
- Liam Nolan did not register his interests in "Liam Nolan Limited" and the Perry Beeches chair of governors also had an undeclared business interest with a director of Nexus Schools Limited.
- In setting up a circular off-the-books payment scam to pay himself an additional salary, the Perry Beeches financial officer Liam Nolan has clearly broken academies accounting rules and Charity Commission rules, yet the only punishment from central government is a written notice to improve, not a sacking or a criminal prosecution.
- Liam Nolan has already faced calls to resign after one of the Perry Beeches schools was put into special measures in 2015. His excuse for his track record of failure and financial mismanagement is that he's "not a business manager" just a "headteacher". Funnily enough he didn't use this "just a head teacher" line in 2014 when he was demanding an increase in his £120,000 per year salary!
- Perry Beeches was also made to pay back £118,291 of government funding after fraudulently claiming free school meal payments despite breaking the rules by keeping no records of kids receiving free school meals for six years.
- The Tory government is so unconcerned at this kind of failure and financial fraud designed to secretively transfer taxpayers' cash into academy executives' pockets that they're allowing Perry Beeches to open a sixth school in 2017!
Privatising the entire English education system and putting people like Liam Nolan in charge of huge taxpayer funded education budgets sounds like a crackpot idea to most people, but the Tories love it because it fits in with their core ideology of transferring as much public cash into private pockets as possible.
Back in 2013 (when Liam Nolan's off-the-books financial fraud was going on) David Cameron described the Perry Beeches chain as "a great success story and one to celebrate" and the former education secretary Michael Gove even praised the academy chain as having "excellent leadership and management"!
The Tories aren't just OK with academy chain directors topslicing education budgets to pay themselves obscene six figure salaries and ripping off the taxpayer even more through opaque outsourcing frauds like the Perry Beeches scam, that's what the whole academisation agenda is actually all about. The Tories hate the public sector with a burning ideological passion. They don't want not-for-profit public bodies running schools in a democratically accountable manner, they want schools run by unaccountable packs of profiteers overseeing irremovable regional monopolies.
Lax financial oversight
The Tory spin on this story is that financial mismanagement like this can be picked up because of the financial rules they've drawn up for academy schools, but this argument is catastrophically undermined by two things.
1. Liam Nolan's off-the-books financial fraud went on for ages and was only investigated after a tip-off from a whistleblower that he was claiming a second salary from school funds.
2. There are plenty of other examples of financial mismanagement at other academy chains (like the Academies Enterprise Trust), and presumably a lot more that have gone under the radar because nobody in the know has tipped anyone off about it.An additional problem with this feeble justification is the fact that Laim Nolan is still in a job. What's the point of having supposedly rigorous financial rules if there is no punishment whatever for those who break them?
What we can do
Given the appalling scale of failure and financial mismanagement at Perry Beeches, one might have imagined that the director who set up the off-the-books circular payment fraud should be facing criminal charges for embezzling public funds, or facing the sack at least, however he's keeping his job and his six figure taxpayer funded salary and Perry Beeches are free to continue expanding their operations in Birmingham.
This is the fanatically right-wing vision the Tories have for every school in England, whether schools want to be run by a bunch of topslicing Tory party cronies or not.
- If you oppose the plan to force privatise every school in England you can write to your MP to raise your concerns.
- There are also two petitions against the Tory plot to force privatise every school in England. One calling for the whole plan to be scrapped and another calling for a public inquiry and a referendum before such an extreme education system reform can go ahead.
- You could take a look at the anti-academies alliance website and follow them on Twitter or Facebook.
- You could spread awareness by sharing one of my articles about the ongoing Tory privatisation of the English education system. This article, the one about the damage that has already been done or the one about the Tory plot to force privatise every school in England.
The Tories chose to sneak out their U-turn on force privatising every school in England on the day after the 2016 elections; which, with everyone talking about the election results, is clearly a very good day to "bury news".
The decision to exempt some of the best performing local authority schools from forced privatisation is only a partial victory. The Tories have already privatised over 5,000 schools into the hands of unaccountable private sector pseudo-charities like Perry Beeches so far, and they fully intend to privatise thousands more, and by force if necessary.
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