Publication would prejudice how public affairs are run
Academies struggling with their finances can in exceptional circumstances receive a grant to ‘stabilise’ their finances.
I submitted a Freedom of Information (FoI) on 26 June asking for the ‘total amount of “exceptional” grants given to academy trusts to stabilise their finances in financial year 2017/18.
The Department for Education (DfE) replied saying it had the information and there was ‘a public interest in the accountability of public finances and ensuring they represent value for money.’
Nevertheless, the DfE would not reveal the total amount given out in grants nor a breakdown of academy trusts receiving such grants.
Letting the public know how much the DfE has granted to academy trusts to stabilise finances would, the DfE says, ‘prejudice’ the work of the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) when engaging with trusts ‘on complex financial issues’. This refusal is allowed under the FoI Act because releasing the information ‘would likely prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs’.
Releasing data after negotiations are over wouldn’t prejudice ongoing discussions
It’s difficult to understand how releasing the information after any grant has been decided would prejudice ESFA’s work during any negotiation. I have requested an Internal Review arguing that the exemption clause doesn’t apply.
DfE delay in releasing info re advances was due to misallocation
Awarding a grant implies it is not expected to be repaid. This differs from an advance which does have to be repaid.
On 25 May I submitted a separate request asking for:
A belated reply on 5 July said the DfE ‘sincerely apologised for the delay’ which was caused by an allocation error.
Refusals, delays and omitted info hide full cost of academy programme
The refusal to release details of grants to academies to stabilise finances and the delay in revealing advances to academies for the same reason add to the growing list of information re academy funding which is hidden from taxpayers. As I wrote two days ago,, recently-published academy transfer costs omit data about such things as deficit write-down. But this can be considerable. In February, TES found a total of £1.8m had been given to academy trusts taking on a transferred academy for deficit reduction. £1.4m of this didn’t have to be repaid.
UPDATE 4 August 2018: The DfE has now replied to my request for information about grants to academy trusts to stabilise their finances in 2016/17. The data was released in full. Check out the homepage for series of articles based on the information.