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Labour MPs urged to repay £5,000 Perry Beeches Academy donations

Labour MPs urged to repay £5,000 Perry Beeches Academy donations

🕔06.Apr 2016

Three Birmingham Labour MPs have been urged to repay cash donations they received from a service company set up by the Perry Beeches Academy Trust, which is at the centre of complaints over the way its finances are managed.

Gisela Stuart (Edgbaston), Jack Dromey (Erdington) and Shabanah Mahmood (Ladywood) were each handed £5,000 by the company to help fund their offices.

The Trust also sponsored a West Midlands Labour fund-raising dinner attended by the national party’s deputy leader Tom Watson as well as MEP Sion Simon and Birmingham Perry Barr MP Khalid Mahmood.

There is no suggestion that the MPs improperly accepted the donations, which were registered with the Electoral Commission and approved.

But Birmingham and West Midlands Labour party is coming under intense pressure to explain what links it has with the Perry Beeches Academy Trust.

Cllr Jon Hunt, leader of Birmingham city council’s Liberal Democrat group, said the MPs should “return the money to the school so that it can be used for its proper purpose which is the education of children in our city”.

Addressing a full council meeting, Cllr Hunt said the donations could amount to “cash for access” and added: “What was the motive?”

His suggestion that the donations be repaid was batted away by Labour council leader John Clancy.

Cllr Clancy said: “Information about the donations has been published in the normal way in accordance with the rules set down by the Electoral Commission.”

He continued: “It is all well and good saying this shouldn’t happen but the real question is how we ended up in a situation where private companies could be involved (in education) in the first place?”

The service company, Nexus Schools, received nearly £1.3 million from the Trust over two years, according to an Education Funding Agency report.

The company paid £160,000 over two years to a business owned by the Trust’s executive head teacher Liam Nolan, who was already paid £120,000 a year.

The Trust has also been accused of claiming up to £2.8 million for children on free school meals, “where no evidence of eligibility exists” and has been ordered to repay £118,291.

The report described the Trust finances as not being transparent:

“The payments made to the Accounting Officer, through Nexus and then Liam Nolan Ltd, for CEO services were not disclosed in the 2013-14 financial statements.”

It found there was no written contract with Nexus:

“The trust spent £1.297m with Nexus over 2 years, without a written contract or a formal procurement exercise to demonstrate value for money.”

Perry Beeches Academy Trust, which has been praised in the past by David Cameron, runs Perry Beeches Academy and four other schools, named Perry Beeches II, III, IV and V. The schools are likely to be handed over to new managers, following the Education Funding Agency’s inquiry.

It is believed management of the schools will pass to the West Midlands Academy Trust. Coventry Council’s Labour cabinet member for education is listed as one of the Trust’s directors.

Cllr Brigid Jones, Birmingham cabinet member for children’s services, issued a written statement in answer to questions about Perry Beeches, claiming that children “have been failed” by the Trust:

“On March 8, a letter was sent to the chair of the Perry Beeches: The Academy Trust telling them to repay £118,291 which was claimed for children who were on free school meals where no evidence of eligibility exists.

“The investigation this letter resulted from concluded that up to £2.8 million may have been claimed for children who were not entitled. This money was meant for children who are in genuine need, and it has been taken from them and given to children where weren’t. These children have been failed.

“On 24 March, a report was published by the Department for Education into the financial management and governance at Perry Beeches: The Academy Trust. This found that £160,000 meant for the education of children at the schools had been siphoned off through opaque governance arrangements into a company solely owned by the executive head teacher.

“That £160,000 was meant for the education of the children in the Perry Barr secondary schools. These children have been failed.”

In a statement to the Birmingham Mail, Mr Nolan defended the use of the Nexus service company:

“For every single penny spent we have shown there is the correct paper trail and receipts show it is fully accountable. Money has been spent through Nexus on, for example, getting industrial kitchens fitted into four of the schools. These were procured by Nexus.

“Similarly, Nexus were also previously contracted when we were an LEA school Nexus do also work with other schools in Birmingham. There has been a full contract in place with Nexus and Perry Beeches since November 2015. All directors decided on this contract rather than is being a singular decision.

“It is extremely important to not lose sight of the exceptional education our pupils are receiving and the training our teachers get. Students with the lowest abilities are gaining 5 A* – C grades, including English and Maths.

“Some of these grades have been achieved through our connections with the Making Learning Work Partnership as they are able to offer our students technical and vocational GCSEs, giving them the very best start in life and a vocational pathway.”

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