Council broke own rules over school consultancy

BOSSES at Doncaster Council have admitted lessons need to be learned after a report revealed it broke public spending rules over a £500,000 consultancy deal.

Internal auditors say the authority ignored its own legal advice when it agreed a deal with Outwood Grange School in Wakefield to turn around the school, then known as North Doncaster Technology College.

There was no signed contract, no evidence of value for money and no competition for the work.

The report indicated that Outwood made a profit of £1 million from the public funding provided by Doncaster and two other councils. It said: “This would appear to be a generous figure and would indicate it may have been possible for Doncaster Council and NTDC to have obtained a more competitive price.”

The report added that if the council had overpaid, ”it is a result of its own failings”.

Auditors found five different versions of an agreement with Outwood Grange, all dated September 1, 2008, but none of them were signed. It was not clear who the contract was actually with though payments were made to Outwood Grange Consultancy, a private company. There was also no evidence that the council had checked that work had been carried out before invoices were paid, said the report.

The audit investigation found that on July 30, 2008, the council’s legal services manager had advised that the council could not enter into a contract with Outwood Grange Consultancy without first following its own procurement procedures. “The council did not follow this advice in procuring the services from OGC,” said the report.

NDTC, which is now called Outwood Academy Adwick, had been in special measures at the time.

The report detailing the findings of services provided by the school improvement consultancy to the NDTC was presented at Doncaster Council’s Audit Committee meeting yesterday.

NDTC was placed into special measures following an Ofsted inspection in May 2008 which judged the school to be inadequate.

Outwood Grange is one of a number of schools accredited with a national leader in education status to improve education standards within schools and provided support to NDTC from September 2008 to August 2009, prior to it becoming an academy.

Doncaster Council’s director of children and young people’s service, Chris Pratt, said: “With Outwood’s assistance, it is clear the improvement services used here enabled a former failing school to be successfully turned around and removed from the special measures category within the year which is an excellent achievement.

“As Outwood Academy Adwick, results have continued to improve rapidly securing a high quality and sustained standard of education for the children of the area.

“However, as the report demonstrates, lessons need to be learned. We fully recognise and accept there were severe flaws in relation to how these arrangements were set up and it is completely unacceptable that a number of statutory processes and procedures were not undertaken correctly.”