Academy chain accused of misusing government allocated funds

The Bright Tribe Trust – which runs 10 schools in England – has been accused of making false claims for government grants, the BBC has reported

BBC Panorama has reported that the Bright Tribe Trust received public money for building work, lighting upgrades and fire safety improvements that were either not finished or never done.

New trustees, appointed at Bright Tribe two months ago, have now commissioned independent investigations and the trust has said that swift action will be taken if rules have been breached.

According to the Panorama investigation, Bright Tribe Trust received £566,000 to demolish and rebuild walls in the sports centre at Colchester Academy in Essex but, instead of knocking down the walls, the trust carried out cheap repair using metal braces.

An insider told Panorama that the repair job cost in the region of £60,000; however, the investigators from the programme have obtained paperwork that says the trust was awarded the full £566,000 and reported the work as completed to the government.

The BBC also claims that the trust has failed to carry out essential fire protection work – including the fire-stopping of a ceiling void and installing over 100 fire doors in another government-funded project at the sports centre – and that the trust again claimed the full £255,000 of funding, despite being warned by school staff that the work had not been completed and the building was still unsafe.

Staff emailed Bright Tribe saying: “The void above the ceiling has never been completed and is a fire hazard as it is completely open. If there is a fire this will spread throughout the building.”

Further false claims

The programme has also uncovered further false claims, made by the trust, for grants for the Whitehaven Academy in Cumbria.

The trust, according to Panorama, claimed £320,000 for energy-efficient lighting – although less than a third of the lights have been installed – and a further £202,000 to upgrade school boilers. However, instead of installing new boilers, it was discovered that the trust moved some old boilers from a disused part of the school.

According to an independent engineer who inspected the school in July, the work carried out should have cost much less than was reported to the government.

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The government was warned about problems at Bright Tribe in 2015.

Northern hub of academies

Following this warning, the government investigated and uncovered serious failings; however, rather than imposing financial sanctions, it gave the trust an additional £1m grant to set up a northern hub for academies in the North East of England.

Last December Bright Tribe announced it was pulling out of the project, but did not repay the £1m, claiming that the majority of this money had been used to been spent on salaries and provided a list of staff who – it said – had worked on the project.

Panorama obtained the list and spoke to people whose salaries had been claimed against the government grant. Several of these individuals said they had never worked on the northern hub project.

Northumberland County Council, which is responsible for schools in the northern hub area, has been trying to get back some of the public money.

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