AP trust blames late payments for financial woes

An alternative provision trust has disclosed fears about “ongoing financial sustainability” – blaming late payments from cash-strapped local authorities.

New accounts for TBAP Trust show it needed a long-term cash loan from the government this year, which increased its borrowing to £1.9million, up from £950,000 the year before.

Government trouble-shooter Angela Barry has joined the troubled trust, which is now overhauling its business plan.

In its 2018-19 accounts, the 11-school trust criticised the national funding model for alternative provision, which it said means “cash flow is a constant challenge”.

Funding for AP schools, which cater for vulnerable and excluded pupils, is a mixture of government funding and money paid by commissioners who use their services, including local authorities and mainstream schools.

TBAP accounts state several commissioners have recently decided to change the funding basis for places which will “have a negative impact on the trust’s financial position” in the future. They also warned of a “financial risk” caused by “inconsistent” financial arrangements and reducing numbers.

The accounts criticised late payments from councils too, which make up 55 per cent of TBAP’s total funding.

Dave Whitaker, executive principal at AP provider Springwell Learning Community in Barnsley, said high-needs funding is a “real postcode lottery” where local authorities hold the “purse strings”.

“This leads to a lack of consistency and fairness in the system, varying degrees of funding and fluctuating places leading to complex financial planning and local arrangements that vary greatly.”

Schools Week revealed TBAP uncovered a shock £2.4 million deficit in 2018.

Last year a restructure saved £1.1 million. In December the trust received £275,000 non-recoverable additional government funding.

TBAP, which is preparing to give up two of its schools, ended the year with a surplus of £217,000 for the first time in three years. Accounts show chief executive Seamus Oates received a pay cut from at least £195,000 to £170,000.

The trust, under a financial notice to improve, is now redesigning its business model “to provide increased outreach services and a flexible alternative provision offer”.

Draft plans include opportunities to purchase parent support, school-based inclusion services and continuing professional development.

A spokesperson for TBAP said the trust has “gone through a challenging time financially” but is “committed to continuing to deliver strong outcomes for students”.

Cath Murray, head of alternative education at the Centre for Social Justice, added local arrangements can mean that some AP’s “struggle to make long-term staffing commitments due to an unreliable cash flow” and called for “much more standardisation of AP funding”.