Saturday, 26 March 2016

Perry Beeches - A warning for every school in England

  

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.  

     
Perry Beeches     
      
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.
  • 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.
Tories love this kind of thing

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.

UPDATE

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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MORE ARTICLES FROM
 ANOTHER ANGRY VOICE 
         
The ideological vandalism of the English education system
           
George Osborne's 2016 budget of failure
                     
Austerity is a con
       

The Tory plan to force privatise every school in England
                             
How the mainstream media frame the political debate
                
Asset stripping "bankrupt" Britain
                      
The Tory ideological mission
                                
Margaret Thatcher's toxic neoliberal legacies
  



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