Lincolnshire academies' trustees 'should resign' over financial report

Archway at The Priory Academy LSST The Priory Federation of Academies Trust has three schools in Lincoln and one in Grantham

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A campaign group has called for trustees of four Lincolnshire academies to resign after an investigation found failings in financial management.

The Department for Education report revealed the academies' chief executive officer used public money to buy items including "sex games and supplements".

The group Save Our Schools said all trustees of the Priory Federation of Academies Trust should go.

The chairman of the trust has apologised in a letter to parents.

Sarah Dodds, who leads Lincolnshire-based Save Our Schools, said an apology was not enough.

"I think, looking at the report, it's quite clear that either by inertia or by deliberate act they have been incompetent in how the trust has been run and the trustees should resign from their posts as of now," she said.

"There needs to be a full and proper inquiry as to how this was allowed to happen.

"The academy trust has been passed on audit as being outstanding so many times. You've really got to call into question how effective all of that process is."

'Not qualified accountant'

The report, which followed an investigation by the Education Funding Agency (EFA), was published on Friday.

The government says the matter has been referred to the police.

What is an academy trust?

  • The Priory Federation of Academies Trust was formed in September 2008.
  • It runs four academies: The Priory Academy LSST, The Priory Witham Academy, The Priory City of Lincoln Academy and The Priory Ruskin Academy.
  • Academies are publicly funded schools which operate outside of local authority control.
  • They have more freedom over their finances than other state schools because they are funded directly by central government, instead of through a local authority.
  • An academy trust is a charitable organisation responsible for the running of the academy.

The chief executive, Richard Gilliland, resigned on 30 March as a result of the investigation.

The schools' former finance director, Steve Davies, retired in December 2011 after the Department for Education advised the federation he was not a qualified accountant and it should consider replacing him.

A compromise payment of one year's salary - about £84,000 - was agreed and the report said Mr Davies was currently "sailing his boat in the Caribbean".

He had the use of a satellite phone paid for by the federation so it could contact him while on holiday, the report said.

In a letter addressed to parents, carers and colleagues, Terry Coffey, chairman of the Priory Federation of Academies Trust, said "mistakes and errors of judgement" were made by "two senior individuals" who have now left the trust's employment.

£315 Christmas lunch

The report said Mr Coffey was "well aware" of Mr Davies using the trust's credit card to buy himself a £506 leaving gift.

The report said Mr Coffey also authorised Mr Gilliland to spend £315 on a Christmas lunch on 25 December 2010.

At the time, Mr Gilliland was spending Christmas at the French Centre, a study centre in France which was bought by the trust for pupils to visit.

School staff and trustees visited the centre when the resident caretakers were on holiday, but travel expenses were also claimed for their family members to accompany them.

The report says the federation did not expect staff to travel or stay there alone as the centre was "quite isolated".

Mr Coffey's letter states: "We have worked with the EFA to put right any practices and procedures which may have been open to misinterpretation and some procedural changes are to be implemented to ensure a more robust framework is in place.

"More generally, the EFA's findings have made us look into how we manage our financial systems.

"Our new finance team has the support and confidence of the EFA and has the capacity to ensure the changes being made are undertaken effectively and checks and balances across the system are in place and can be evidenced."

Mr Gilliland and Mr Coffey have not responded to the BBC's requests for interviews.

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