DfE property firm’s boss got £30k bonus, despite missed value-for-money target

The boss of the Department for Education’s property company received a £30,000 bonus last year, despite the organisation missing one of its key targets.

Accounts for LocatED, a company set up by the government to find land for new free schools, show Lara Newman received a bonus payment of between £30,000 and £35,000 in 2018-19, up from £20,000 to £25,000 in 2017-18.

The documents also show that her pay rose from between £185,000 and £190,000 in 2017-18 to between £190,000 and £195,000 2018-19.

Her increases in pay and bonus, which were signed off by the education secretary, come despite the fact LocatED did not fully meet all of its key performance indicators for 2018-19.

The firm “narrowly missed” an “acceptable” rating against its aim to achieve “good value schools per pupil”. The indicator measures the number of acquisitions where the total capital cost of a school per pupil is “equal or lower” than the historic average. All other KPIs were either rated “acceptable” or “exceptional”.

Created in 2016 with an initial £2 billion budget, LocatED’s initial task was to seek out sites for new free schools.

But in recent years its remit has broadened to include a role in optimising the use of existing school sites, including through the use of land for teacher housing, and, more recently the sale of surplus school sites.

In LocatED’s latest accounts, Newman states that the company has saved £4 million on the DfE’s portfolio of 88 properties, and has been managing four mixed-use developments, including both school buildings and houses in areas “where the cost of land would otherwise have been prohibitively high”.

“When development is complete, capital will be generated from the sale of the residential dwellings in the schemes, which will subsidise the cost of delivering the new schools,” she said.

LocatED has also “disposed” of three sites owned by the education secretary that were identified as “surplus to requirements” in 2018-19, Newman said.

The accounts also reveal that LocatED has been given permission to continue its work for another three years.

Last November, the Treasury approved its business case up to March 31 2023.

A spokesperson for LocatED said Newman did not receive the full performance-related payment that was “potentially available”, and had only received money for those targets that were “met or exceeded”

When question about the missed key performance indicator, the company pointed to its “exceptional” rating against a different KPI which is based on “the total acquisition cost of all commercial purchases as a percentage of the total of all the Red Book valuations for the sites acquired”.

Red Book valuations are based on guidance set by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.

The spokesperson said this was the “most accurate measure of its proficiency as it is the main cost LocatED has control over”.

“In comparison the cost per pupil target, that also aims to measure good value, is based on DfE programme data that is not in the public domain, including construction costs that are not negotiated or managed by LocatED,” they said.

“This means that the KPI result is influenced by factors outside of LocatED’s control.”

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