A borough academy trust blew almost £1,900 on alcohol and £450 on a trustee Christmas dinner, a government investigation has found.
Leading Learners Multi-Academy Trust, which runs Tyldesley Primary School, has been criticised in a document released this month by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) following a probe which discovered multiple financial wrongdoings.
The investigation was launched back in April 2017 after the authority received an anonymous tip-off about “irregular expenditure” and poor financial management.
A review into the trust’s charge card expenditure for 2015/16 and 2016/17 found that £1,888 had been spend on bar drinks and alcohol during this period.
Payments of £164.50 for jewellery (gifts) and £100 on a John Lewis gift card, had also been made.
On top of this, staff paid for three rooms at £277 per night, with “no evidence” to suggest that a cheaper alternative had been considered.
The EFSA investigation also found that £451 had been spent on a payment labelled “trustee Xmas”, which was used for a dinner for trustees and senior management.
A report published by the authority states: “None of the charge card expenditure had any evidence of review, approval or evidence of value for money consideration.
“ESFA review work confirmed the MAT (trust) has no policy on travel and subsistence expenses and had no regular internal checking process of expenses incurred.
“As a result, the expenditure could be deemed contentious as it did not appear to be related to the direct running of the MAT.
The four-school academy trust started as just Tyldesley Primary before taking over another three schools in 2016.
Brian Wilson, chairman of the trust, has said that the financial systems have improved since the review took place two years ago.
“We are pleased that the final report into the financial management of the trust, which was conducted nearly two years ago, has now been made public.
“The report rightly recognises that there were issues with our financial management at that time of their review.
“As we have stated before, this is not something that we have ever shied away from.
“When we grew from one to four schools, our financial expertise, systems and processes did not strengthen at the same rate as our education improvement.
“While changes were being made to enhance our financial governance prior to the visit from the ESFA, we have continued to strengthen this area of the trust at pace over the last two years.”
The trust also came under fire for its procurement process, with the investigation finding that contracts worth up to £38,500 for education consultants, had been granted without going through a formal tendering process.
The ESFA found that four out of five consultants did not have a contract for services.
Mr Wilson has stressed that the school has had no problems since the 2017 investigation.
He added: “Our latest audit report for the financial year ending August 2018 found that there were “no significant findings to bring to the attention of Trustees” and that there were “no regularity, propriety and compliance matters that we became aware of during the audit”.