Academy finances: Important lessons to learn

I recently worked with the BBC Panorama programme on an investigation into procurement practices and related party transactions at the Bright Tribe multi-academy trust (MAT). The programme was aired earlier this month. Jon Richards, national secretary for education at UNISON writes in SecEd.

UNISON first became aware of Bright Tribe in the summer of 2015 when our Essex branch noted that the MAT was proposing to outsource staff at their Colchester Academy to different private companies.

One of our branch representatives noticed that the private companies were all registered at the same address, so our forensic researcher took a deep dive into their accounts and other financial records.

Bright Tribe was instructed to make changes and the EFA wrote a report outlining its investigation into Bright Tribe, its findings and recommendations – a report which was later made public. 

Then, amazingly, Bright Tribe was awarded £1 million by the government to expand in the North East, although it has since pulled out of the project – you definitely need to see the Panorama for more details about that…

Founder Mr Michael Dwan left Bright Tribe MAT earlier this year and the trust is now under new leadership after new trustees were appointed in July. They have commissioned independent investigations to “ensure value for money, transparency, good governance and oversight”.

While we wait for the outcome of these investigations, there are lessons to be learned across the academy system and many questions to be answered covering the system of financial governance and accountability for MATs.

Does the EFA – now the Education and Skills Funding Agency – have the resources or indeed the will and political backing to ensure that MAT finances are rigorously checked to ensure that public money is being used properly?

Since the programme, UNISON and Panorama have been inundated by people telling us similar stories. Clearly this doesn’t mean that every MAT has questionable financial operations, nor does it mean that maintained schools are all innocent. However, with the amount of public money at stake and with resources so tight for schools, we can’t afford to let large sums of public money be diverted away from funding our children’s education.

Read more about Bright Tribe and the questions that need to be asked of MATs Academy finances: Important lessons to learn

Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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