Essex

Thrive Partnership Trust: Trust spent £100k on firm with staff links

Thrive Partnership Academy Image copyright Google
Image caption Thrive Partnership Trust previously ran two schools in Essex, including the Philip Morant School in Colchester

An academy trust gave a £100,000 contract to a web firm with close links to staff, despite it being the most expensive option, a report said.

The now defunct Thrive Partnership Trust ran Philip Morant School in Colchester and Colne Community School in Brightlingsea.

An Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) inquiry found "instances of irregular expenditure" at the trust.

The ex-chief executive Nardeep Sharma OBE said he was unable to comment.

As first reported by Schools Week, the ESFA report, which was "cleared for factual accuracy" by the Thrive Trust before it was published, told how Mr Sharma and executive principal Catherine Hutley were suspended in April 2018 "following allegations of inappropriate conduct and financial mismanagement".

Image copyright Thrive Academy
Image caption Catherine Hutley and Nardeep Sharma both parted company with the Thrive Partnership Academy Trust

They quit their roles later that year before the trust was dissolved. The schools have since been taken over by the Sigma Trust.

The ESFA investigation revealed how in 2017 the trust sought three quotes for its branding and website design.

But a recommendation to go with the lowest cost option was ignored by the trust's board, which instead went with the "most expensive of the three options".

The ESFA found there was no explanation as to why the most expensive option was chosen.

Not only did the price of the work subsequently increase, but the ESFA found family links between the firm hired and Thrive staff.

Minutes reveal no "conflict of interest concerns" were raised over the outlay of public money, the ESFA report said.

The inspection report said: "A number of significant findings and breaches of the Academies Financial Handbook have been identified.

"These include poor oversight, poor procurement practices, questionable recruitment and severance processes and instances of irregular expenditure."

Mrs Hutley, who now works for Essex County Council, also declined to comment on the ESFA's findings.

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