Council to refer WCAT to police over finance concerns

The leader of Wakefield Council is to refer the Wakefield City Academies Trust to the police over alleged financial irregularities, after the authority voted to demand that £1.5 million in reserves taken from three of its schools is returned by the government.

Councillor Peter Box told a meeting of the authority earlier this week that he planned to discuss his concerns about the trust’s finances with the police.

The trust is in the process of being wound up, and will have all 21 of its schools transferred to other sponsors after admitting it did not have the capacity to improve them.

At a meeting yesterday, councillors from across the political divide supported a motion arguing the Department for Education should pay back £436,000 to Hemsworth Arts and Community Academy, £800,000 to Wakefield City Academy and £300,000 to Heath View primary school.

The council claims the trust transferred the money to its central accounts as loans, but had “made it clear” it will “refuse to honour these liabilities” now that it is being closed down.

Chief executive of Wakefield council, Merran McRae, will now write to education secretary Justine Greening to demand the money is returned to the three schools.

Greening has this week pledged a “forensic analysis” of the trust’s collapse by auditors.

She made the promise to local MPs at a meeting on Tuesday, according to the Labour MP Jon Trickett.

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  1. John Connor

    Classic asset stripping. The Tories have created a climate where this can happen, and it can happen to any MAT at any time. There is no oversight. There is no mechanism to oblige RSCs to report to the public. The DfE does not have the capacity to oversee the numbers of academies and free schools, so there’s nothing to stop a MAT from doing a Toby Young and walking away, claiming that running schools is “harder than we thought”. In the meantime, what happens to these children, who only have one shot at their education, while the MAT vultures pick over the corpses of their schools?

  2. Mark Watson

    According to TES, last year 65 multi-academy trusts sought permission to sell or transfer 160 acres of school playing fields. Since 2010 these MATs have asked for permission to dispose of 684 acres of school playing field land, and the land they’ve sold has generated more than £100 million which they’ve kept for themselves.
    Now that’s proper asset stripping.

    • Mark Watson

      Sorry, bit of a correction to the above post. Of course what I meant to say was that it was 65 local authorities that tried to flog off 160 acres of school land last year, and have raked in over £100 million from such sales since 2010. Bit of a different spin on the story …

  3. Mark – to set the record straight re sale of school playing fields since 2010. LAs and academy trusts have to request DfE permission to sell school playing fields.
    Records show the DfE approved 242 applications to sell off school playing fields or parts of school playing fields since 2010. Reasons include closed school site, school moving to new site, sale of unsuitable land, redevelopment of site and amalgamation. The decisions cover LAs and academy trusts. The info also explains how the proceeds of the sales were used. Hardly asset stripping then.

    • Mark Watson

      Oh, you have no idea how much I agree with you. I understand asset stripping as being the process of selling off the assets of a company (in this case the academy trust) and extracting the proceeds into the pockets of the investors leaving behind an empty shell company with debts that will collapse.
      The point is that this doesn’t happen with academy trusts.
      Yes, an academy trust may well sell of its assets (be that land, buildings, artwork etc.), but the proceeds are not taken out by individuals but reinvested within the trust. Whatever happened at WCAT (and again, I am NOT defending them) I haven’t seen any allegations that these reserves came out of the academy trust and into the pockets of individuals connected with WCAT (I stand to be proved wrong though).
      Where all of my comments on this piece have come from is an annoyance at how people bandy round terms like “asset stripping” without understanding what’s involved.

      • Mark – I think the parents used the term ‘asset stripping’ because funds they had built up for their particular school went to the trust. They want the money they’ve raised to be returned to each school. However, as both of us know, academies in MATs aren’t legal entities on their own. They are part of the trust. Therefore any money can’t belong to one academy alone.
        I don’t know if setting up a separate PTA account would keep money raised by parents for a particular academy would keep the money safe from the overall trust. And I don’t know if WCAT academies had such separate fund-raising accounts.

        • Mark Watson

          I can totally understand parents’ anger and frustration, and if they use a loaded word to describe things I don’t think anyone could object. However I think that responsible media, and commentators, should gently point out that such descriptions are not only misleading but wrong, and certainly shouldn’t be propagating the myth that some shadowy people/organisations are somehow benefiting personally from this mess. (We don’t need more unfounded conspiracy theories from AssemblyTube for example).
          In relation to your other point, if parents want to raise money for their academy then, as you refer to, they should do so using a PTA with its own bank account. This is a way of ‘ring fencing’ that money and ensuring it will only be used for the benefit of that particular academy. However I’m willing to bet that out of Wakefield City Academy’s £800,000 not a high proportion was raised by the parents, and it remains to be seen what the final outcome will be. If WCA rebrokers to another MAT along with £250,000 then does this mean any parent’s fundraising has been protected?