Tuesday, April 18, 2006

City Academies Costing Plenty

What with the police pursuing their enquiries, and the teaching unions squawking for the whole sorry mess to be scrapped, it's easy to lose sight of the actual money. So I've tried to tot up what Blair's troublesome City Academies are costing us- the taxpayers- and whether we're getting value for all those peerages.

So far, 27 academies have opened, and their capital costs have ranged from £16m up to £38.5m (Bexley). The average cost is £26m, which means a total capital spend so far of £0.7bn, with a plan to build an eventual 200 at a combined cost of £5bn: so it's not chickenfeed (see list of first 100 here).

But we taxpayers needn't worry too much because of course those aspirant peers are paying a lot of it, right?

Ah. Well, sadly their contribution is not really that much: the DfES says "the sponsor provides around £2 million with the government meeting the balance".

OK. Only £2m out of an average £26m a pop. But even two mill is something, right?

Hmm. Well, that's £2m gross of tax. And since academies are charities, for your average plutocrat the net contribution to the Exchequer is only £1.2m. We taxpayers have to stump up the other £800,000.

Oh. But every little £1.2m helps, surely.

Ah. Well, you see, it turns out quite a lot of them haven't coughed anything like £2m (gross). Take Barry Townsley, who not only sponsored Stockley academy, but also donated £1m to the Labour Party and had his peerage blocked by the Lords Appointments Commission. He's apparently only come up with £400 grand of sponsorship so far.

Or take the sponsors of Harefield Academy. They're described as David Meller and other "businessmen and Businesses who first became involved in the development of The Academy through their association with Watford Football Club". They seem to have forgotten to include Elton, which perhaps explains why they've only come up with £42 grand.

In fact, for the 23 academies listed by Schools Minister Jacqui Smith, sponsors had only come up with an average of £1.2m gross, or a mere £700 grand net of tax. Not bad for your own school, let alone the peerage.

The City Academies saga has always had an air of unreality. We all know bog standard comps are failing- particularly in rough areas- but why on earth should we think some enthusiastic amateur would do better? Even assuming he's not doing it to get a peerage or to indoctrinate kids with his own fundamentalist superstitions, why should we trust him to run an expensive state funded school? And with results at a third of these academies failing even to match the sink comps they replaced, it's clearly another disastrous flop.

Real customer choice is the only long-term solution in education, as with all our public services. Meanwhile Blair's seedy academy scam is letting down its customers and costing us taxpayers plenty.

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