Below are four articles from a single edition of the Sunday Times on 15th January 2006. They make clear the link between tony Blair's political patronage (vis-a-vis New Year Honours and Peerages) and the sponsors of his pet schemes. In other words, how to buy your way into favour and the House of Lords.

The Sunday Times January 15, 2006

Champagne, then talk of a knighthood

Jonathan Calvert and Claire Newell



THE trail revealing the inner workings of the £300m city academy scheme began in November at Mosimann’s, the private Belgravia dining club in central London.

A reporter posing as Claire, a PR assistant to a wealthy financial entrepreneur, had contacted the office of Sir Cyril Taylor, head of the city academy trust, saying her boss was interested in making a donation. She was swiftly invited to a talk and a dinner for sponsors taking place later that week.

In a room upstairs at Mosimann’s, Taylor held court after a seminar at his offices in Millbank. He placed Claire next to Des Smith, a headmaster and council member of Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, which helps recruit wealthy sponsors to back academies.

Champagne was served before a three-course dinner and a lively discussion about the poor quality of state teachers, class sizes and design of schools.

Smith was keen to know more about the mystery potential donor Claire represented, and after the dinner he invited her to go to a champagne bar at Liverpool Street. He knew the staff well, he said, because he "did lots of business there".

They drank more champagne and chatted, and Smith boasted he had been to "No 10 lots of times". He even offered to introduce Claire to Ruth Kelly, the education secretary.

In mid-December Claire and another reporter, posing as the mystery donor, took Taylor to lunch at L’Oranger, another smart restaurant in St James’s Street, off Pall Mall.

Over a bottle of Pouilly Fumé, Taylor explained how the government’s plans for specialist schools were booming as hundreds of millions of pounds were poured into Blair’s pet projects.

Behind his explanation lay the reality that, although the academies are trumpeted as innovative partnerships of the public and private sector, most of their money comes from government. But it is important, for Blair’s political aims, to ensure that sufficient private donors are also secured.

Taylor presented this as a fabulous deal because a donor could get the credit while putting up a relatively modest sum as the government actually supplied the bulk of the money.

"You’ll never have a greater opportunity to have £2m, to attract another £20m plus capital and then permanent funding forever," he said. "The only reason the government is prepared to do that, especially a Labour government, is because these schools are so awful."

Taylor made it clear he had influence right at the top. He said he had been an adviser to numerous secretaries of state, he regularly met Kelly and he had a "link" to Downing Street.

Although he denied donors could expect to be decorated, he said he had been awarded not one but two knighthoods: first a Knight Bachelor then a Knight of the Grand Cross. "I have duties," he said. "I occasionally have to accompany the Queen on things."

Taylor suggested that the next step for "Malcolm", the potential donor, was to find out more about city academies — and the man to help him was Smith, the champagne-drinking headmaster. Smith would make a good "project director", said Taylor, "a professional, who knows all the buzzwords, (and who) can deal with officials".

Smith took Claire to a restaurant below the Nicole Farhi boutique in Bond Street where they chatted over wine and food. Smith appeared keen to secure "Malcolm" as a donor and talked about how they could co- operate on projects.

The reality of how deals can be done for sponsoring academies finally emerged last Friday when Claire again met Smith in the champagne bar inside the Great Eastern hotel at Liverpool Street.

They had a few glasses of wine and then he took her to the Fishmarket restaurant inside the hotel. They chatted for a while about how Smith, who picked up the bill, was hoping to do some consultancy work at a rate of £600 a day.

Then Claire raised the subject of honours, observing that lots of people involved with academies "seem to get some kind of honour or recognition for . . ."

"Yes," said Smith.

"Why’s that?" asked Claire.

"Because basically . . . the prime minister’s office would recommend someone like Malcolm for an OBE, a CBE or a knighthood," Smith said. He went on to explain how donors could be put forward for honours and how, if they gave enough money, even get a peerage.



The Sunday Times

January 15, 2006

Revealed: cash for honours scandal

By the Insight team

PRIVATE donors to Tony Blair’s controversial city academies can obtain honours and peerages by sponsoring the schools, a senior adviser to the programme has revealed.

Des Smith, a council member of the trust that helps recruit sponsors for academies, disclosed that if a donor gave sufficient money, he could be nominated for an OBE, CBE or even a knighthood.

He described what appeared to be a tariff system, in which a benefactor who gave to "one or two" academies might receive such an honour while a donor who gave to five would be "a certainty" for a peerage.

Smith’s comments came during an undercover investigation by The Sunday Times. Suspicions of a link between honours and donations to academies — Blair’s scheme for new privately backed schools — have existed since the ambitious programme of establishing up to 200 academies began in 2001. Six of the biggest academy sponsors have already been honoured after pledging their money.

Smith is an adviser to Sir Cyril Taylor, chairman of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (SSAT), and says he has been a regular visitor to Downing Street. Smith is a council member of the SSAT, and Taylor personally recommended him as a potential "project director" to an undercover reporter who approached the trust posing as a would-be donor.

On Friday, Smith told a reporter posing as a donor’s PR assistant that "the prime minister’s office would recommend someone like (the donor) for an OBE, a CBE or a knighthood".

"Really?" replied the reporter. "Just for getting involved with the academies?"

"Just for, yes, they call them ‘services to education’," replied Smith. He went on: "I would say to Cyril’s office that we’ve now got to start writing to the prime minister’s office."

Smith was even more confident about the prospect of securing an honour if the donor was willing to give as much as £10m.

"You could go to the House of Lords and get a lord . . . become a lord," he said.

"So, if you invested in five city academies over, say, a 10-year period, it would be . . ." said the reporter.

"A certainty," said Smith.

Yesterday David Willetts, the shadow education secretary, said the honours system should not be used to buy support for a policy in this way: "There is a fine line here between recognising public-spirited people who wish to support education and blatantly rewarding people for propping up one of the prime minister’s pet projects."

Taylor yesterday called Smith’s claims "outrageous." He said: "In no way is giving money to the academy linked to the award of an honour."

He admitted recommending people for honours in the past but not because they had given money to an academy: "I have never said to any prospective or existing sponsor that if they sponsor an academy, that I would recommend them for an honour."

Smith himself backtracked when confronted by The Sunday Times. "It is not possible (to acquire an honour by a donation)," he said



The Sunday Times – Comment

The Sunday Times

January 15, 2006

Roll of dishonour

Few things are more dangerous in politics than policies that top the prime minister’s "must do" list. The word goes out around Whitehall that the policy must succeed at all costs. Ministers are told in no uncertain terms that they must deliver. Failure is not an option. So it is with city academies, the £5 billion school reform that has come to symbolise Tony Blair’s third-term domestic agenda. He believes that these partly privately funded state schools will be the standard bearers not only of educational excellence, but also of the "parent power" needed to drive that forward. Mr Blair has pledged to create 200 such schools by 2010 and, even if he is gone from office by then, to have enough in place for that target to be secure.

On the face of it city academies, schools built on the site of failing comprehensives in disadvantaged areas, are a good idea. They offer head teachers the kind of autonomy the prime minister wants to introduce for all schools, providing Ruth Kelly, his hapless education secretary, can push the reform bill through the House of Commons. The record of the 27 academies already established is mixed and the educational establishment hates them — normally a sign that they are a good thing — but they deserve a fair wind.

The key to the success of the academies, according to the government, is the involvement of businesses and other organisations which provide part of the funding. The result of this involvement is that academies "bring a distinctive approach to school leadership drawing on the skills of sponsors and other supporters". For the sponsors, who are normally required to put £2m towards the £25m capital cost of an academy, such backing can bring dividends. It is a low-cost way to getting on the good side of the government and securing local and national publicity.

That, it seems, is not enough. The Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (SSAT), chaired by Sir Cyril Taylor, describes itself as "the lead advisory body on the specialist schools and academies initiatives . . . providing advice and support for schools seeking to achieve or maintain specialist school status and to sponsors wishing to establish academies".

Lord Levy, the prime minister’s chief fundraiser, who has been successful in getting businessmen to cough up for new Labour, is its president. Since 1997 the link between donating to Labour and getting an honour has been a bit too close for comfort. Two big Labour donors, Lords Sainsbury and Drayson, are ministers in the House of Lords. Plenty of others may also owe their knighthoods and peerages to the size of their chequebook. Now it seems the same is true for those who provide sponsorship for Mr Blair’s academies. When reporters from The Sunday Times posed as potential business sponsors of academies, they were directed to Des Smith, a member of the SSAT’s council. They were told that a benefactor who sponsored one or two academies could expect a knighthood, while somebody stumping up the money for five would be "a certainty" for a peerage for "services to education". Mr Smith was confirming what has already been happening. Six of the sponsors of the existing academies have already been honoured. More can expect gongs in the coming years. Perhaps we have become inured to this government’s abuse of the honours system.

This newspaper led the way two years ago in revealing the political machinations behind the system. Honours in return for political donations have become part of the furniture under new Labour. Even so, this latest cash-for-honours scandal breaks new and disturbing ground. If Mr Blair’s city academies programme is to succeed, it should do so on its own merits. If it can be made to work only through grubby patronage, it should be abandoned. The prime minister, as always, will insist he knows nothing of this. If he does not, he should — and should act accordingly.


The Sunday Times – Britain

The Sunday Times January 15, 2006



How new school backers hit the golden route to a gong

Geraldine Hackett, Education Correspondent

Blair’s pet project comes at a high cost



TONY BLAIR insists his plan for 200 city academies sponsored by rich donors is the way to create good schools in the inner cities, although this has come at a hefty cost and has so far produced mixed academic results.

One academy in a tough part of Hackney, east London, was designed by Lord Rogers, the architect, and cost £35m. Another, in Bexley in south London, boasts its own stock-exchange trading floor.

The prime minister hosts breakfasts for potential sponsors in Downing Street where he tells them that for £2m — the down payment required from donors — they can put something back into society. The government foots the remaining £25m-plus for the building as well as the £5m annual running costs.

For Blair and Lord Adonis, his former adviser on education and now a junior minister, these schools are the key to prising education away from local councils in traditionalist Labour-dominated cities.

Academies get their funding direct from Whitehall. The governors are appointed by the sponsors, who can "brand" the schools. They also decide what the pupils should study and what teachers should be paid.

The plan has been controversial and plagued by setbacks as some academies have turned out to be worse than the schools they replaced. The Unity city academy in Middlesbrough, sponsored by the construction company Amey, has been judged by Ofsted, the national schools inspectorate, to be a failing institution. It has run up debts of more than £1m and has had to be bailed out by the education department.

Last week the National Audit Office (NAO), the government’s spending watchdog, pointed out that academies — which on average cost £27m to build — are £4m more expensive than other new schools. It was, said the NAO, too early to say whether the academies provided value for money.

It was the kind of verdict that pleases Labour traditionalists. City academies are seen by them as glitzy new Labour projects which, with their state-of-the-art facilities, are overly expensive and offer no guarantee of success. They also claim they damage neighbouring comprehensives by attracting the brighter pupils in the area.

A touch of glamour for the scheme has been provided by such potential sponsors as Arpad "Arki" Busson, the millionaire philanthropist. His charity, Absolute Return for Kids, wants to sponsor seven academies in London.

Other sponsors have been more controversial. One of the leading backers of academies is the car dealer Sir Peter Vardy, an evangelical Christian. One of his schools, the Emmanuel college in Gateshead, teaches creationism alongside the theory of evolution.

Cynics have suggested that sponsors hand over their money in anticipation of honours. The peerage for which Sir David Garrard, the property developer behind the Bexley academy, has been nominated by Blair is to be examined by the Lords Appointments Commission, which vets peerages. Garrard, who has donated £200,000 to Labour, has put £2.4m into the academy.

Others complain that the academies are not open to public scrutiny. They are created as charitable companies, and information about their accounts and the composition of the governing bodies is not published.

Within Whitehall the recruitment of wealthy sponsors is secret. Sir Cyril Taylor, the veteran government education adviser who heads the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, has since last January been asked to find sponsors. His trust gets £19m a year from the government and raises another £2.5m in subscriptions from specialist schools.

In addition 26 civil servants in the education department’s new projects unit recruit sponsors and select the schools that will be replaced by academies.

This unit is headed by Sir Bruce Liddington, the former head of a state school, who is employed on a freelance contract, earning around £170,000 a year in fees and expenses. Liddington is one of a group of head teachers and former heads, many of them linked to Taylor and the specialist schools trust, who provide informal advice to Blair.

Liddington and Taylor preside at dinners arranged for potential sponsors. They have to find sponsors willing to put in £2m over five years, though large-scale donors appear to get "discounts". Philanthropists willing to back three academies only have to put in £4m.

Big business is starting to come into the scheme. This week the Honda car company is to announce it wants to sponsor a city academy to replace a failing school near its plant in Swindon.

Blair refers to the academies as independent state schools, by which he means they do not come within the remit of local councils. He takes the view that the independence given to academies is the key to making them a success.

His response to critics is that the academies are being tried in areas "where everything else has failed".

However, the NAO last week gave ammunition to his critics when it reported that 1,557 schools — with almost 1m children — in England and Wales are not providing a satisfactory education.

The programme to build 200 academies will cost £5 billion. The Treasury may need to find much more to bring all schools up to scratch.



then nothing ....

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