As Bucks County Council raises its council tax, Wycombe Labour asks what it gets for its £8 million annual grant to the Bucks Learning Trust.
BCC’s Select Committee on Education considered BLT over two meetings – the first on 9 December 2014, when it looked at BLT’s performance, and the second on 27 January 2015, when it looked at its accounts.
David Williams QC, Wycombe Labour’s Parliamentary candidate, said, “BCC’s Select Committee is meant to scrutinise the value for money of the £8 million annual grant BCC gives to BLT. Unfortunately after two meetings, the public are none the wiser.
For example, I would expect the Scrutiny Committee to have got the answers to the following questions:
- what does BCC expect BLT to deliver for its £8 million/year and by when, and how will this improve educational standards in Bucks? Is BLT delivering against this agreement?
- how does BCC know whether this meets the needs of schools?
- is this value for money?
- how does BCC ensure that BLT, a company it gives £8 million a year, is sound in terms of its finances, governance, educational competence and reputation?
- when will BLT be independent of BCC and self-financing and how will BCC ensure that BLT will continue to provide high quality services which meet the needs of the schools?
- what are BLT’s longer term financial projections, including for generated income?
- what proportion of the generated income does BLT see being generated in Bucks, in the UK and elsewhere, including the Middle East and Asia where BLT has projects running and where income might be less reliable? What services did BLT provide in these countries? Were they one-offs or part of a continuing business agreement?
- what is the impact of the resignation of the CEO only a short time into the life-time of the company? Why is discussion of his departure, in the words of the Cabinet Member for Education, “sub-judice”?
Despite cross-party questioning by members of the Committee, these questions were never answered.
The Committee never got to the bottom of the basic question as to whether the taxpayer gets value for money for its £8million.
The trustees of BLT, including its Chairman, were conspicuous by their absence from both meetings. Why weren’t they there to account for £8million of taxpayer’s money?
BCC has put up its Council tax as much as it can without having to hold a referendum. Local Councils are being squeezed to the last pound and are making cuts to vital services. Residents would expect in these circumstances for BCC to rigorously scrutinise £8 million in grants it gives to BLT. But it didn’t.