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Bolton Wanderers Free school governor who claimed £3,250 remains secret

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A cash-strapped free school due to close later this year does not seem to know which of its governors racked up a bill of more than £3,250 for attending four meetings.

Schools Week revealed in March that Bolton Wanderers Free School (BWFS), opened by the former premier league football team Bolton Wanderers in 2014, had reimbursed a board member £3,287 for travel, subsistence and accommodation costs.

School accounts did not name the governor, but they showed the governing body met a maximum of four times throughout that year, which works out about £820 a meeting.

At that time the school had 12 governors, including wealthy baker and former Bolton Wanderers vice-chairman Brett Warburton, who resigned as a governor in January this year, and the former Bolton Wanderers chair Phil Gartside, who died last year.

Other governors were mostly staff or parents of pupils.

Schools Week submitted a Freedom of Information (FOI) request for the name of the governor paid £3,287 and a breakdown of expenses.

How can it possibly take that time to find out who got the money?

However, BWFS refused to release the details under section 12 of the act – which allows public bodies to refuse requests that would exceed an “appropriate limit” of time to complete.

The school said it would take more than 18 hours to find the relevant information, suggesting it did not have the name or costs on hand.

Mary Bousted, the general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said it “beggars belief” that it would take a school more than 18 hours to discover the identity of someone who received thousands of pounds in expenses.

“How can it possibly take that time to find out who got the money?” she said. “What kind of control was there over public money that you can’t find out who you paid over £3,000 to?”

BWFS was repeatedly asked to provide further information about the 18-hour estimation, but it refused to comment.

Schools Week revealed in March how Bolton Wanderers charged the school almost £600,000 in rent and utility bills in the first two years it was open.

The costs for this year’s rent is still unknown.

The school announced earlier this year it will close in August because of financial concerns.

In September last year Ofsted deemed it “inadequate”.



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5 Comments

  1. Words and their meanings:

    Free: adjective
    able to act or be done as one wishes; not under the control of another.
    as in freeloader at a free school as opposed to freedom of information, meaning, no, we can’t find out, it would take too long

  2. Mark Watson

    This is ridiculous. I presume SchoolsWeek (as the requestor) will be complaining to the ICO.
    However, it shouldn’t need to come to that. By the looks of this article SchoolsWeek asked for the name of the governor and a breakdown of the expenses. The school apparently said providing this information would take too long. Leaving apart how it seems unbelievable that it would take 18 hours to find this information (surely it would have had to have been collated for the accounts to be produced), the extremely high likelihood is that they know the name but would have a problem putting the breakdown together.
    In any situation where a school cannot provide requested information within 18 hours then according to the ICO they “must give the requester reasonable advice and assistance to refine (change or narrow) their request. This will generally involve explaining why the limit would be exceeded and what information, if any, may be available within the limits”.
    So why not split the request into two. Firstly ask for the name. This cannot possibly take 18 hours.
    Then ask for the breakdown, and challenge any attempt to refuse it. (BTW, can SchoolsWeek not offer to pay for an additional 10 hours – this would cost £250 and would give the school 28 hours to collate the information. Surely not even they could claim it would take that long.)
    BTW I’ve previously said that there might have been a good, and totally justifiable reason, why the governor was paid £3k. I still think this is the case in theory, however the school’s response to this request does make me question whether this is the position here …

    • Mark – you’re right that it’s ridiculous the trust should claim it would take 18 hours to collect this info. But splitting up the request into two after the first request has been declined might not work. It seems sensible. At least I thought so until I tried this with the DfE which had refused to give me details of 100 academy transfer costs on grounds of cost. I could cough up £600 to pay for the labour if I wished (thereby showing they had the info but wouldn’t release it). I split the academies into groups of ten and resubmitted the FoIs. But the DfE wouldn’t have it. It said it would count the ten requests as one.
      An internal Review said the costs would be published in the future. That was back in March 2016. The costs still haven’t been published. I complained to the ICO about the delay but they couldn’t help for reasons I gave here http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2017/04/exclusive-dfe-can-put-off-publishing-academy-transfer-costs-indefinitely

      • Mark Watson

        In that case at the very least you could refine the request to just ask for the governor’s name. That should get that information.
        If you then resubmit a question asking for the breakdown they may lump that together with the first request and refuse it but at least the name comes out.
        Once there is a name out in the public domain I would think it likely that the rest of the information would follow. Not least because the individual who had been named would probably want to try and explain what had happened …

  3. Yet again – who is being asked to comment on things they do not know about other than information from a reporter? Schools are monitored by EFA as per the financial academies handbook? any untoward would have been out by the EFA now WHO approve all policy be for opening.