Contracts go to firms with links to Chester school's governors


Staff reporter (Chester First)

GOVERNORS at a Chester free school have said grant money of more than £100,000 was used “correctly” after it emerged contracts were given to companies with links to the governing body.
St Martin’s Academy on Hoole Road, Hoole, is at the centre of the controversy after the school accounts show that before any pupils started at the school last August, the school had spent more than £100,000 of a £220,000 start-up grant on two consultancy firms.
Both are owned by governor and a former governor of the school.
A number of any city residents have taken to social media to vent their fury at the revelations after they appeared in  Private Eye magazine.
Geordieployglot wrote on Twitter: “I think this stinks” while Chay Hawes wrote “the entire free school concept is a terrible one”.
The free school was set up by Stephen Docking and Iain Colledge through a not-for-profit company, North West Academies.
Mr Colledge, a former governor, runs a consultancy company called World Academies which advises on setting up international schools. Mr Docking is headteacher of Delamere Primary Academy and the sole director of ACT Education. 
The school accounts for the year up to August 2013 show North West Academies Ltd had paid £42,861 to World Academies and £61,076 to ACT Education.
They also show £14,904 was paid to Quality Solicitors, part of Oliver & Co, where Kay Cook, another governor, is a senior partner.
The accounts show that at that point the school’s income was made up of a £220,000 start-up grant and a £40,000 IT capital grant from the Education Funding Agency.
The school has denied any wrongdoing, adding the contracts were awarded “as part of a competitive tendering process with three other education consultants in a process approved by the Department for Education (DFE)”.
Brendan Wignall, chairman of governors at St Martin’s Academy, said: “The accountability of public finances is of paramount importance to us.
“The Project Development Grant was used correctly and appropriately to deliver a great school that is providing an excellent learning environment for its pupils.
“The project management was brought in considerably under budget, using expert knowledge employed directly by the trustees of the school.
“All work to deliver the school on time was bid for through a competitive tendering process, approved by the Department For Education at regular milestone meetings and agreed through tripartite agreements.
“All accounts were also successfully audited at the end of 2013 for the period of July 2012-September 2013.
“The accounts of all academies are open and transparent and it is important to note all transactions are carried out in full compliance with the Academies Handbook and Company Law.
“We take the responsibility of allocating any funding we receive very seriously and all decisions are scrutinised by the Education Funding Agency as well St Martin’s own governing body.”
Mr Wignall added: “It’s also important to stress no directors or governors associated either with North West Academies Trust or St Martin’s Academy receives any financial remuneration whatsoever for carrying out their required duties.”
The academy also stressed the DFE chose the winners of each contract and said the reason the governors’ companies won the contracts was because they were able to carry out the work at cost price.
They also said Chester-based Oliver & Co tendered for the work and carried out all legal and compliance work, including the buying of premises and the undertaking of all work carried out in the setting up of the school and academy trust.

See full story in the Chester Leader

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