Labour demands 'urgent inquiry' into academy regulation following Bright Tribe scandal

Labour has demanded an “urgent and independent inquiry” into how multi-academy trusts are regulated after an investigation called into question the legitimacy of government funding claims by the under-fire Bright Tribe Trust.

An investigation by BBC Panorama, which aired last night, alleged that Bright Tribe received public money for building work, lighting upgrades and fire safety improvements that were either not finished or never started in the first place.

Ministers themselves have serious questions to answer about their own role, and their continued refusal to release key reports and information

New trustees appointed at the trust in July have already begun investigating the allegations, but Labour said a wider independent investigation is needed following the “appalling revelations”, and said ministers must answer for their part in the scandal.

“Public money has been handed out for work that has not been done, even leaving a school premises at fire risk, and parents and taxpayers need to be assured that this malpractice will be stamped out,” said Rayner.

“We cannot allow private interests to line their own pockets by ripping off taxpayers and students. With our children’s education at stake, we cannot allow profit to come ahead of pupils.”

According to Rayner, the Panorama findings and other allegations “raise serious concerns about accountability to governors and parents, and government oversight of taxpayers’ money”.

“An urgent and independent inquiry is needed into the regulation of academy trusts in light of these appalling revelations about Bright Tribe Trust. Ministers themselves have serious questions to answer about their own role, and their continued refusal to release key reports and information.”

Bright Tribe’s founder Michael Dwan denies the allegations.

A spokesperson for Bright Tribe and ALAT said Panorama had highlighted “a number of issues of serious concern” which the trusts’ new leadership “has been looking into as matters of utmost urgency”.

“It is clearly absolutely unacceptable if any public money has not been spent as it should or if school buildings have been unsafe. The independent investigations the new leaders have commissioned, including those referred to in the BBC report, cover every area of the trusts’ operational work over the past few years.

“It is essential that there is comprehensive understanding of all areas, including health and safety, funding, procurement processes and the sharing of information to ensure value for money, transparency, good governance and oversight, and we will update as soon as possible.”

Schools Week understands the Department for Education has no plans to open an inquiry into academy regulation, but a spokesperson said the department “will not tolerate those who try to exploit the system for personal gain”.

“Academies have to provide more information on their accounts than other schools and the most recent published financial audit found that more than 95 per cent [of] trusts had no issues.

“Where funding is given to a trust for a specific reason, it must be used for that purpose and we have clear rules and systems in place to hold them to account if we are not satisfied – including terminating funding agreements and recovering money that has not been spent in the agreed way, as we have done with Bright Tribe Trust.

“We will continue to clamp down on financial wrong-doing if it arises. We are giving the Education and Skills Funding Agency more powers to tackle this, including making trusts declare all related party transactions and to seek approval for any transaction over £20,000.”