Profits before Pupils – UNISON
2018 Eastern regional Conference passed the following motion.
In September 2018 the Panorama programme broadcast about the academy chain Bright Tribe. The programme revealed an alleged catalogue of unchecked power, secrecy, financial impropriety and the possible misappropriation of public funds.
UNISON has had a unique insight into what went wrong at Bright Tribe Trust. It was around the time of the Colchester Academy takeover in 2015 that we learnt about the myriad of different companies owned or controlled by the Trust sponsor, multi-millionaire businessman Michael Dwan. Each one apparently trading inside the Trust but with none of the normal checks and balances we would expect in public procurement. The Trust currently operates 1 0 schools in England of which five are located in the Eastern Region.
Our concerns were initially raised with the Education Funding Agency, the regulator, as early as July 2015, the investigation that followed found weakness in the internal audit processes and concerns that related party transactions were not being declared.
Some weeks later for reasons best known to themselves the Department for Education awarded Bright Tribe a further £1m to expand the Trust.
The latest revelations highlighted by Panorama raise important questions about the use of public funds, the ability of the academies regulator to protect taxpayers’ money and the lack of funds the regulator has to do its work.
There was a culture of fear across Bright Tribe’s academies, with pressure put on staff to sign non-disclosure agreements, which may have led to commercial interests being protected at the expense of pupils, parents and taxpayers.
UNISON is calling on the government to carry out a detailed inquiry into the allegations made by Panorama. This is so proper checks can be made on academy spending, and academy schools can become more accountable to local communities.
This 1 academy raises serious questions about how not-for-profit organisations are audited and what happens to the squeezed public resources that are meant to be spent educating our children.
An inquiry is needed urgently to ensure that all lessons have been learned calling on the Education Select Committee, the Public Accounts Select Committee, or some other appropriate body independent of the DFE or EFA.
UNISON IS asking for this conference to support a motion for:
- Labour’s East of England MPs to question the government’s regulations into the use of taxpayers’ money in academies.
- Promote proper accountability of finances in schools within local authorities where Education belongs.
- Support UNISONs call for an inquiry.