Documenting Past Failures: (3) NRF, EduAction and an open letter to Cllr. Chris Robbins

One of the outside organisations that LBWF paid NRF monies to was EduAction, or more properly EduAction Waltham Forest Ltd., a joint venture formed by Amey Plc (‘one of today’s leading public services providers’) and Nord Anglia Education.

In the 2000s, EduAction ran the schools in the borough, after a damning Ofsted report at the turn of the century had disposed of the idea that the local authority was up to the job.

It was always said that EduAction was receiving NRF monies to help it run special programmes, aimed for instance those at those most at risk of failure or truancy. However, I was never convinced, and gradually, too, LBWF’s relations with EduAction came under increasing scrutiny from a variety of quarters, including some within the authority itself. Thus, a LBWF Anti-Fraud Team draft report of July 2007 concluded: ‘It is considered likely that EduAction has diverted monies originating from the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund into other parts of the company, by using NRF funding to pay for staff and services previously funded from other sources and redirecting those other sources elsewhere in the company. The sum involved extends at least to sums of NRF paid in 2004/05 and 2005/06 (£90,000and £150,000), in that outputs from the schemes paying this money are substantially unmet. For 2003/04, an NRF sum of £29,208.78 paid is not properly accounted for and the risk exists that some or all of this represents EduAction fees not openly claimed as such’ (LBWF Corporate Audit and Anti-Fraud Team, ‘Investigation Report. NRF fund use within EduAction’ (2007), paragraph 4.2.2). (Incidentally, the phrase ‘redirecting those other sources elsewhere in the company’ is tantilising, and rumours abounded about what had happened, with the Waltham Forest Guardian claiming in mid-2008 ‘Whistleblowers claim EduAction, which ran education in Waltham Forest until April, used money from NRF to boost profits’ (on-line edition, 13 August 2008)).

Anyway, emboldened by this kind of finding, I decided to write an open letter to Cllr. Chris Robbins (at that time portfolio lead for education) about another even larger sum that LBWF had apparently paid over. It read as follows:

‘3 December 2009

Dear Councillor Robbins,

In 2006, the LBWF’s Better Neighbourhoods Initiative (BNI) team contracted to pay EduAction nearly £1m to run two programmes under the rubric Educational Attainment – ‘Late Arrivals Project’ and ‘Project 100/Vision 12’.

Regarding this contract, subsequent investigations have established that:

  • It was illegitimately procured, as admitted by Mr. Roger Taylor, interim chief executive, in a letter to me of 29 July 2008.
  • There was considerable uncertainty about its true value, which was variously recorded as £932,532, £804,732, and £914,428.
  • Whether it was legally formalised remains to be established, since when PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) later investigated, it was only able to locate a ‘photocopy’ of a contract which ‘seemed’ – PWC’s word – to refer inter alia to ‘Late Arrivals Project’ and ‘Project 100/Vision 12’.
  • PWC record final approval as having been given by Mr. Rob Pearce, who later joined Renaisi.
  • PWC found the programmes to have been only inconsistently monitored and audited, so that there must be substantial uncertainty about what was really achieved.

I note also that, when subsequently queried about these matters, LBWF repeatedly refused to respond, so that, for example, it took 11 (eleven) separate written inquiries about the contract’s procurement, stretching over the course of approximately a calendar year, before Mr. Taylor made the admission cited in point 1, above.

Two questions arise.

First, in a letter dated 10 August 2008, Mr. Roger Taylor told me, under the heading ‘Re: BNI EduAction Contract of 2006’ that a ‘disciplinary investigation’ was ‘well underway’. Please will you detail what this has found?

Second, since you were portfolio holder for education at this time, and no doubt a conscientious one at that, who knew all about the major programmes that were unfolding, please will you explain when you first became aware of this contract’s unusual features, and what you then did about them?

One final observation. The independent panel advises that a line should be drawn under many of the NRF programme’s flaws and failures, citing in particular Dr. Foster [for which, see a later post]. I am sure most sensible people will agree. But a million pounds is a million pounds, and so I am afraid that the legitimate questions posed here cannot so easily be disposed of.

Yours truly,

Nick Tiratsoo’

Curiously, despite reminders, I still await an answer

PS See also: