A leaked report has revealed “extreme” government concern after an academy trust was found to have paid its chief executive more than £82,000 for 15 weeks’ work.
An investigation into the Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) – which runs 21 primary and secondary schools across Yorkshire – found that the company has been put in an “extremely vulnerable position as a result of inadequate governance, leadership and overall financial management,” the Times Educational Supplement reported.
The Department for Education’s funding agency (the EFA) said the “lack of openness and transparency” about the academy’s decision to remove trustees from the board raises questions about whether managers had acted in the trust’s best interests.
Last week, the WCAT came under fire after it emerged it had paid some £440,0000 to private companies owned by the interim chief executive, Mike Ramsay, and his daughter.
According to the EFA investigation, the academy trust anticipated large decifit budgets over the coming five years and the business was in urgent need of a “orbust and detailed recovery plan”.
Currently, the trust’s project deficit budget stands at a loss of £16m.
The EFA found that Mr Ramsay, the former chair of the board, had been paid £82,025 between February and May this year, despite not being formally employed by the company.
Mr Ramsay was also found to have been paid almost double the approved mileage costs, totaling £3,229 in expenses during the same period of time.
It is understood that he was offered a contract outside of the normal payroll, but the EFA advised that this would have been a breach of official guidance.
The investigation, which took place over June and July this year, also found that Wakefield City Academy were unable to produce the list of students receiving pupil premium payments (additional funding to raise the attainment of disadvantaged pupils in schools).
The trust had no chief financial officer employed, and was charged £2,520 after cancelling a booking at a gold and conference centre – something the EFA deemed was a “waste of public funds”.
In total, the trust was found to be in breach of 16 rules as stipulated by Academies Financial Handbook guidance and 19 recommendations were made.
The EFA concluded: “The trust has been in an extremely vulnerable position as a result of inadequate governance, leadership and overall financial management.
“The recent appointment of new trustee and the work of the iCEO (interim chief executive) have over the last few weeks and months gone some way to rescuing the situation, which nevertheless remains of extreme concern.”
A Department for Education said they were unable to comment on leaked documents.
A spokesperson said: “We are working with Wakefield City Academy Trust to ensure necessary improvements to financial management and governance are made.”
Wakefield City Academies Trust chair, John Hargreaves, responded to the allegations: “Following their visit to the Trust and two of its academies in June, the EFA outlined a number of issues from its inspection. These observations, some of which were legacy issues relating to the previous management of the Trust, were discussed in a draft document in August.
“A number of the observations were not accurate and have been strongly refuted by the Trust. Subsequently, the EFA made a number of recommendations that were to be addressed within a robust action plan and the strategic plan created and implemented by the new Trust board.
“All of the recommendations made by the EFA have been satisfactorily completed or are underway given the time frames involved. The members of the Trust, working with the iCEO, took action early in July forming a new board which now has nine directors with three functioning committees.”
Dr Hargreaves added: “The EFA confirmed this month the Trust was ‘actively making progress’ against the recommendations. It has asked for a further progress report in January. All of this work undertaken by the new board, iCEO and business and education teams at WCAT is about providing the best education possible in our academies.
“The Trust has, over the past two years, taken responsibility for schools with longstanding financial issues, serving some of Yorkshire’s most challenging communities. We are seeing positive signs on the educational front that they are being turned around by our dedicated and hard-working staff, despite all the difficulties they have faced.
“The board and executive team’s focus is on those students and staff. We are looking forward and won’t be distracted by what’s gone on in the past.”
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