As we approach next weeks election with a strong media focus on Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn there is a risk that stories such as the one below will be overlooked as the press focuses on the faux presidential contest which it suits their owners to present the election as. Meanwhile another wealthy Tory is trying to keep some of the skeletons in the closet. Baron John Nash is someone who has made a fortune as a Lawyer, Venture Capitalist and a major private contractor to the NHS. He has also founded a number of Academies. One of his ways of giving some of his wealth back to society is as a major donor to the Conservative Party to whom he has donated £300,000 according to various reports. Because the Conservative party likes to demonstrate gratitude to their wealthy donors, John Nash was elevated to the House of Lords in early 2013 and he was invited to become a Schools Minister. In the world of business and venture capitalism many organisations like to hide what they do behind a veil of secrecy. This means that a transition into Government can be uncomfortable for people like John Nash or deeply dangerous for the nation.
As this report explains a Freedom of Information request was recently made to clarify the latest sums that you and I have paid when Academies change hands from one sponsor to another. This transfer is known as rebrokering. Inevitably there is a cost and it is perfectly reasonable for this to be understood so that the actions of the Government and indeed sponsors are held accountable to the people who are expected to pay for these transfers. It is hard to see how such transfers adds value to the taxpayer and whilst in the short term the change may benefit the schools as a new broom is brought in to manage them, this needs to be balanced against the cost. Even some Tory MPs believe that these costs should be made public. The Chair of the Education Select Committee, Neil Carmichael who was MP for Stroud spoke in February when he told ministers to “get a grip” and ensure the government was meeting “the highest levels of transparency and accountability” over academy spending.
It is unlikely that the secrecy is being used to protect efficiency and some of the data is well known. In recent years the number of schools transferring from one academy trust to another has risen dramatically – from 26 in 2014, to 134 last year. On previous figures, available to the end of 2014, the average cost to the taxpayer of a transfer was £131,000 per school, which would have taken last years total to an estimated £17 million. As the story reports, Lord Nash inadvertently admitted that he was unwilling to publish this data if it was to be damaging to the Government, and the sum has not yet been published so it must be a great deal higher than £17m. One can only imagine the cost has doubled or worse over the last 3 years as lawyers like Lord Nash have found a way of charging for carrying out due diligence and other actions. In the scheme of things a sum of £17m or perhaps around £30m is not huge, after all the funding gap in Schools is £4Bn, but a large number of schools could benefit from a sum like £17m, let alone the real sum. It is estimated that the funding gap for the Schools in Brighton will be £11m by 2019, so one assumes that the real sum involved in brokerage last year could be used to plug the gap for 2-3 cities of the size of Brighton at least.