Have the Council raided the education budget to pay for their own incompetence?

By | March 4, 2018

At the meeting of Full Council last week, I raised the fact that Greenwich Council’s handling of the deal to create a new academy school to replace Corelli College (now rebranded The Halley Academy”) was costing Council Tax payers £1.5m.  Given that the 2.99% rise in ‘Borough’ Council Tax next year will only raise £2.4m, this means that the Council’s incompetent handling of the deal will mean the majority of the 2018-19 increased Council Tax receipts will go to the Leigh Academy Trust.

The deal with Leigh Academy Trust was not mentioned in the Council’s “Budget and Council Tax Setting 2018/19” report despite the substantial bill.  The costs of the deal were revealed in two parts:

  • A decision taken by the Leader of the Council published in February which paid the Leigh Academy Trust £1m for a house and piece of land on the site of Corelli College.
  • A decision taken by a Senior Officer in January to pay £0.5m for “essential health and safety works” at the school which was not public. Just to be clear, without me asking difficult questions as an opposition Councillor, this £0.5m report would never have seen the light of day.

This second decision is surprising as the original report to Cabinet in 2011 stated that “the school will cease to be maintained by the Council as a community school” (2.2) – presumably meaning that the buildings should have been looked after by the Co-operative Academy Trust.

The reasons for the Council’s payments in this switch from the “Corelli College Co-operative Academy Trust” (which took over Corelli College in 2011) to Leigh Academy Trust (LAT) are not clear, but appear to be linked to the fact that no permanent lease was ever agreed for the site meaning that the Academy only ever had a ‘Tenancy at Will’ – a temporary option which is ‘strongly discouraged’ by the Government.  It is obviously a positive thing that the LAT are putting the relationship with the Council on a more professional basis and that they will not repeat these previous mistakes but you have to ask what happened to the lease which should have been signed post 2011 – does it exist?  Why did it not cover these issues?

Regardless of the precise origins of this expensive mess, it is clear that the Council has got itself into a pickle over the deal with LAT as in the Officer report there is a clear link of the £0.5m grant to getting the house and land which the Council seems to want:

However, by the time the February decision was reached by the Leader of the Council another payment was required to “agree to a £1m settlement in respect of a disputed interest in land”.  So even in the last month this deal appears to have cost the Council another £1m.

How is this being paid for?

So given that this £1.5m education spend for one school has been agreed by the Council, how is it going to be paid for?

Now according to the Council Leader’s initial statement in Full Council (which you can watch for yourself at the end of the budget debate here), the Council has simply purchased two plots of land from Corelli and she suggested that this is an investment is an in Corelli College.   This initial answer suggested that the Council was supporting the school with this extra investment, but no clue was given as to where the money for this deal came from.

The Council papers are a little more precise, stating that:

  • A first £0.5m will come from ‘one-off resources’ which have been identified but the Officers.
  • A second £1m report states that “Resources have been identified within the Schools Programme to forward fund the £1m settlement and potential tax implications.”(page 6)

So it appears that the budget for other schools is being raided to pay for the Council’s desire to retain a piece of land and a house at the entrance to Corelli College.

So why does the Council want this land?  To be honest, it really isn’t clear.  In 2011, there was a link with the piece of land being a school, but the Leader’s report suggests that the valuation is based upon the sites being used for residential property development.  Which means that the Council is using the education budget to fund land deals….

I’ve got some more questions in on this issue and will provide updates, but it is no wonder that one of the Corelli Governors and a Councillor felt obliged to finish the Council meeting last week with a stern injunction that it was “not appropriate to continue this debate”.  Anyone looking at this deal from a strictly Council point of view has to question the use of taxpayers money here – I am sure it is an excellent deal from the LAT point of view, but what is our Council doing?  Should the Council be using money for education to fund land deals without any certain purpose?

Notes

  1. The £2.4m figure is quoted from the Council’s Budget papers which were approved by Council in February 2018 – section 7.8.
  2. The map of the land/house being purchased is below:

3.  The February 2018 decision by the Leader of the Council can be found here:  http://committees.royalgreenwich.gov.uk/ieDecisionDetails.aspx?ID=4540

4.  The July 2011 (not June as listed in previous decision) Cabinet decision regarding the conversion to Corelli College can be found here: http://committees.royalgreenwich.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=119&MId=2416&Ver=4

Please contact me if you would like a copy of the Officer’s delegated decision with regard to the £0.5m being spent on essential health and safety work around the school as this is not publically available at this time.

This article was copied across from Cllr Spencer Drury’s ‘Your Councillor’ blog which is being closed down.

About Spencer Drury

Spencer has been one of the three Councillors for Eltham North Ward since 2002. He is currently one of two Conservative Councillors for Eltham North, being joined by Charlie Davis following a by-election in November 2016.

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