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‘No cover-up’ in Kings Science Academy, says Minister
Ministers are still refusing to release key information about the Kings Science Academy scandal, an angry MP said last night following a Commons debate.
David Ward, the Bradford East MP, criticised the Department for Education (DfE), after it dodged crucial questions posed at Westminster.
During the debate, Schools Minister David Laws, a Liberal Democrat, insisted there had been no “cover-up” at the ‘free’ school, where the principal has been arrested on fraud allegations.
Mr Laws pointed to a telephone call made to West Yorkshire Police, when the school was reported to the Action Fraud hotline, in April last year.
And he said: “If there had been an attempt to cover matters up, that second check is not likely to have taken place.”
But Mr Ward, also a Liberal Democrat, pointed out that West Yorkshire Police had found no record of that alleged call, on April 25.
And, speaking afterwards, he criticised the DfE for failing to answer the following questions: l Whether the DfE saw an internal auditors’ report – as early as August 2012 – in which the principal “admitted the fabrication of invoices had taken place”?
l Why the full DfE auditors’ report was not sent to Action Fraud – even after investigators had requested further information, last September?
l What other sites for the school were considered? The site is owned by a firm run by Alan Lewis, the school’s patron and a Tory party vice-chairman, which receives £290,000-a-year in rent.
Mr Ward said: “We are no further forward, because these questions still remain to be answered. There will always be a suspicion of a cover-up until the minister carries out a full investigation into what happened.”
During the debate, Mr Ward ridiculed the idea that almost £300,000 a year was ‘market rent’ for “partially tenanted, largely derelict buildings that stood on the site”.
And he said: “I believe that the school was only ever going to be built on Alan Lewis’s land and the DfE failed in its duty to ensure a fair and robust options appraisal took place.”
In reply, Mr Laws insisted the rent figure was independently assessed, but strongly criticised the school’s statement – later retracted – that Mr Lewis was chairman of its governors.
He said: “This was totally unacceptable. Not to have a properly-constituted governing body is a demonstrable failure to comply with the funding agreement.”
Kings Science Academy must repay about £77,000 after “fabricated invoices” for rent were submitted to the DfE – something only revealed when a secret report was leaked.
Payments also went towards teachers’ furniture, with more than £600 spent on parties or meals and £169 given to an employee to buy clothes.