Sir Peter says government report has identified ‘human errors’

Barnfield College, opening higher Education centre, pod. New Bedford Road, Luton. with Jack Sapsworth  and Pete Birkett.
Barnfield College, opening higher Education centre, pod. New Bedford Road, Luton. with Jack Sapsworth and Pete Birkett.

Sir Peter Birkett has blamed “human errors” for the issues identified in two government reports into the Barnfield Federation.

The damning Skills Funding Agency report, published today, showed improper use of college funds, funding claims for students the college had no record of teaching, poor management and “lack of oversight” by Governors.

Sir Peter said the report identified human errors often found in large complex and dynamic organisations such as Barnfield and said many of the key findings were known about and planned for.

He said: “It was my understanding through management reporting and audit outcomes that the college was solid and ready to move to the next level - although the reports identified some surprises it also confirmed that the college is financially healthy with £21.5 million reserves. In academic year 2012/13 the college’s academic results are still to be announced as potentially the best in its history. The Academies were also described as financially sound with reserves.

“The Barnfield Federation grew in an agreed and measured way with constant legal advice from a number of law firms.”

Sir Peter said the Education Funding Agency report, also published today, confirmed that they “did not find any expenditure that would be considered as profligate”.

However, it did find expenditure that is “considered irregular and improper”.

This included £2,124 spent on three marble plaques to commemorate Sir Peter’s knighthood, more plaques installed in two academies at a cost of £5,790 plus VAT, and approximately £10,000 on annual staff parties of which nearly £2,000 was spent on alcohol.

The EFA also found inappropriate use of corporate credit cards for the period of August 2010 to 2013.

THis included one account with a limit of £75,000 being used by four people and one account with a limit of £100,000 being used by seven people.

The spending on these two accounts was generally between £5,000 and £17,000 a month but the management control for paperwork supporting the credit card statements was not “robust”.

“Potentially inappropriate” items such as alcohol for end of term drinks, significant quantities of chocolate, gifts for staff leaving, gifts for staff getting married and the purchase of gift cards were also bought.

The SfA report said that when Sir Peter resigned, he was given two lump sums of money, an additional month’s holiday pay and a company car – an Audi Q5 – which was not part of his contractual entitlement.

Sir Peter pointed out that the South and West Academies continue to be successful, rising to first and third positions in the Luton GCSE league tables in academic year 2012/13, from the bottom of the Luton league table when they joined Barnfield in 2007.

Sir Peter said: “Amongst its many accolades Barnfield again in 2013 secured Investor in People Gold champion status and at a ceremony in London in November 2013 won the “best school operator” national award.

“I am pleased that the lengthy investigation has come to an end allowing Barnfield to continue to provide great opportunities for the students, business and the community of Luton.”

>For more on this story see the Luton News next week