Boss of failed WCAT 'spent £1,500 on dog pen for his offices'

The head of Wakefield City Academies Trust spent £1,500 on a dog pen for his offices as his trust headed towards financial ruin, a new investigation into the failed trust alleges.

Former chief executive Mike Ramsay’s computer company also made more than £840,000 from WCAT’s schools during his tenure, despite the academies having £2 million in reserves taken by the trust.

An investigation by BBC Inside Out, due to be broadcast tonight, reveals allegations from Ramsay’s former office manager Kirsty Whipp that he spent £1,500 on a pen for his dogs at his offices near Leeds while ignoring pleas from schools for more funding.

The BBC reported that Ramsay installed £1,500 railings at WCAT’s headquarters to keep his dogs in, and the trust paid for them.

Ramsay did not comment specifically on the dog pen, but denied the other allegations – stating problems in the trust were down to it being “allowed to expand too quickly”.

According to the programme, chief operating officer Jacqui Webb, a close friend of Ramsay, would sign off his expenses and remuneration. In one year he was paid over £295,000 for IT services and acting as chief executive.

Whipp said Ramsay would claim “82p a mile mileage” and was paid £145 an hour, claiming for 16 or 17 hours a day.

“They would submit an invoice to finance, but I was told to keep these documents under lock and key and away from the finance team.”

Former finance director John Beevers said he was not allowed access to some of the trust’s financial information. Two trustees, Steve Corne and Peter Mckenzie, said they were sacked after questioning Ramsay’s financial package and WCAT’s governance.

Mckenzie said he expressed alarm when Ramsay requested a pay rise despite the trust running a £3 million deficit. He said Ramsay believed he could address the budget deficit by reducing teaching staff, but he “felt that this was completely fantastical and that it was impossible to remove enough teachers to address the budget deficit and carry on as an academy.”

However, Ramsay has denied the allegations against him. He said there were no conflict of interests and all connected party activity was in line with policy and properly scrutinised. He also said he was not involved in Whipp’s recruitment and all expenses were scrutinised by the chief financial officer.

He told Inside Out: “WCAT was allowed to expand too quickly. I flagged this with all leaders within the trust asking for a period of reflection to address the needs of schools well before I became interim CEO.

“The trust continued to expand without the educational resources to support the high number of schools that needed rapid and sustained educational improvement. There were some inspirational people that worked for WCAT within the central team and schools, but sadly, educational support was not enough or at the required level to make a difference.”

Diane Humphreys, headteacher of former WCAT school Waverley Primary School in Doncaster, said her school was forced to start a new term with 40 per cent supply teachers because WCAT failed to give them the funding needed or let them recruit.

She said: “It’s clear to me that WCAT was run more like a business for profit.

“The main problem for us was the finance. There were lots of difficulties around budgeting and the funding that schools were allowed was never clear.  We would request teachers early on in the year but those requests were sent back with no explanation.

“Two hundred children were impacted because of the austere regime over that time impacting on their education, the resources, the money and the downward morale of staff.”

The Department for Education told the programme it had to pay a total of £1.75m to new academy trusts to take on the trust’s 21 schools after its collapse two years ago. Ramsay’s computer company supplied software to the schools, making over £840,000. In total he and his daughter made nearly £1 million from WCAT.

Schools Week revealed that accountancy firm Deloitte received almost £200,000 of public funds to wind up the trust.

Schools Week also revealed that the DfE gave WCAT more than £500,000 in November 2015 under its flagship Northern Powerhouse scheme for “top performing” sponsors, despite the fact senior officials had already been alerted to a string of concerns including potential irregular payments and poor financial management and governance at the trust.