The Department for Education, I’ve been told, does not hold information about a ‘charge’ in favour of the education secretary concerning the freehold of the former Isle of Portland Aldridge Community Academy (IPACA).
Charges are set up in favour of the education secretary when freehold land used by an academy or free school is transferred from the DfE to the trustees running the school.
Leave aside the argument that property bought with taxpayers’ money shouldn’t be transferred freely to private companies (that’s what academy trusts are). It should be expected that the DfE would have records of such charges.
But in the case of IPACA, it says it hasn’t.
Documents showing the existence of charges are filed at Companies House. They can be seen by searching for an academy trust. They make it clear that the ‘chargor’, the person entitled to the charge, is the education secretary.
In IPACA’s case, the charge was partly satisfied. The document recording this partial satisfaction is filed at Companies House.
In an exchange of emails seen by the review team, a DfE official suggested Companies House had made a mistake. It’s difficult to believe this since the document clearly states it was submitted by a solicitor acting for the chargor (ie the education secretary).
The internal review of my freedom of information request says it would ask for the name of the DfE official who liaised with the solicitor. It would then decide whether the DfE held information about the unsatisfied part of the charge.
The review team’s inquiries have ended. It appears, though it does not say so, that the official who liaised with the solicitor no longer exists. All has disappeared. The DfE does not hold the information.
This suggests a worrying incompetence at the DfE. These charges are supposed to protect public investment in land given to academy trusts. But when, as in the case of IPACA, a charge is not satisfied when the academy trust is defunct, it should be expected the DfE would have some record of this.
To make the situation even more complicated, the freehold land held by the defunct academy trust is listed as leasehold in the accounts of the Aspirations Academies Trust who took over IPACA and renamed it Atlantic Academy. Who, then, owns the freehold?
Perhaps the National Auditors’ Office should take an interest.
CORRECTIONS 10 June 11.03: Atlantic College has been changed to Atlantic Academy, the correct name. I've also inserted 'Aldridge' into IPACA's full name. I originally missed it out.