The chief executive of a Wakefield academy chain that was found to have breached government rules following an investigation into financial irregularity has admitted it was due to a lack of knowledge when it came to recording accounts.
It comes the week after a report by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) found a number of “significant failings and weaknesses” at the Rodillian Multi Academy Trust, including paying almost £8,000 for the CEO, Andy Goulty, to stay in a four-star hotel for 78 nights.
The ESFA launched a probe into the trust, which runs four secondary schools in North and West Yorkshire, following a tip-off by a whistleblower last February. It alleged that Mr Goulty had been staying at a five-star hotel several nights a week, for the last two to three years, despite living within travelling distance of all schools within the trust.
The ESFA found that £7,827 was reimbursed to Mr Goulty to cover the cost of 78 nights’ stay at a hotel close to the Rodillian Academy, despite there being no approved travel and subsistence policy. It also found that a flat was rented at a monthly cost of £875 – £10,500 for the year – without seeking approval from the ESFA. And no supporting documentation was provided to show that this had been agreed by the board.
Mr Goulty told The Yorkshire Post: “My view is the report is factually correct but there are ways in which one can read it. I do feel that just talking about nights in a four-star hotel misrepresents why one might be staying overnight and not going home.
“For us that was all around the extra work I take on in order to make money for the trust.”
Mr Goulty claimed that in the three-year period the £19,000 was spent on the accommodation, he brought in half a million pounds by carrying out improvement work and leadership support outside of the trust. He said: “We were not using public money allocated to pupils, we were using money we earned by me working long hours. Our view was this was good value for money actually.”
Mr Goulty said the report found that the trust did not have the authority to sign off the money, rather than it being wrong. “It was a process we didn’t follow in order to get authority from the ESFA,” he said.
“Now we know we needed to put a business case forward, and if we had things would be different.
“That was done in a different time before the current financial director was appointed this time last year to bridge the gap better from schools to multi-academy trust, which many schools have fallen foul of in terms of financial processes.”
Mr Goulty, who lives in the Yorkshire Dales, said the decision was made by the trust to rent the flat as it was cheaper than hotel stays. He said: “We have got a number of schools in the trust and there were governing body meetings to attend and work started supporting other schools, primarily in Leeds. We felt that staying in a flat was better value for money than to keep staying in a hotel and actually somewhere much better I would work from late at night, rather than not knowing which hotel I was going to be in.”
The ESFA report also identified the trust’s finances had “deteriorated significantly” last year. It found the trust had forecast a £284,000 surplus at the end of the 2016-17, but a financially stricken school had joined, with the forecast not being revised to reflect this, breaching academy funding rules. The ESFA told the trust to address the issues in the report “urgently”.