An education minister has hit out at “constant sniping from the sidelines” over the sponsorship of academies.
Lord Nash, whose charity Future sponsors two schools in London, told peers at question time that it was a pity that the contributions of people from “philanthropic backgrounds” were not better appreciated.
His comments came after Liberal Democrat Lord Storey pointed to a number of “high-profile cases” where a business person had sponsored a number of academy trusts, which had then procured “substantial contracts from companies the business person also owns”.
Lord Storey called for greater transparency, better procurement arrangements and proper auditing, adding that the current arrangements appeared not to be working.
Lord Nash said there were clear rules to ensure procurement was even-handed. Connected parties could only supply to their trust under “at cost” policy and could not make a profit.
Labour’s Lord Watson of Invergowrie listed several of what he described as the most “egregious” examples found by the Education Funding Agency where the financial arrangements for academy trusts were not adhered to.
He urged ministers to “get a grip” and ensure “proper financial oversight” of billions of pounds “swishing around the academy system”.
Lord Nash said “waste was seeping out of every pore” of the education system when the coalition took over after the last Labour government.
The Audit Commission in 2013-14 had identified 206 cases of fraud in local authority maintained schools, compared to 22 cases in academies.
“It is a great pity that people from philanthropic backgrounds aren’t more appreciated,” he said. “I find this constant sniping from the sidelines very depressing.”
Tory former chancellor Lord Lawson of Blaby said the minister would have shocked the House with his “revelation of a massive amount of fraud involving local authority maintained schools” and asked what was being done to tackle this.
Lord Nash said ministers were constantly encouraging local authorities to take greater financial oversight over their schools.
Labour former minister Lord Foulkes of Cumnock asked Lord Nash to explain how he managed to “reconcile the potential conflict of interest between your role as a minister and you and your wife’s role as directors of the Future Academies trust”.
Lord Nash replied: “We have a very clear protocol established with the civil service that I’m not allowed be involved in any decisions which may directly affect the Future Academies trust.”