EXCLUSIVE: DfE says it doesn’t know what happened to unsatisfied ‘charge’ relating to Portland Academy

Janet Downs's picture
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The Isle of Portland Aldridge Community Academy (IPACA) Trust was dissolved last November.  Its one academy, IPACA, had transferred to Aspirations Academies Trust (AAT) in September 2017 and renamed Atlantic College.

Company House records show there was a ‘charge’ dated August 2014 against IPACA Trust in favour of the education secretary relating to ‘freehold property known as The Portland Academy’.   

Such charges give ‘Security over an asset’ (Portland academy) which allows the lender (the education secretary) ‘to have the right to have the particular asset’ and sale proceeds (if any) to ‘discharge’ the debt (in this case, the money spent by taxpayers to buy the freehold).  A charge doesn’t transfer ownership – this remains with the owner (in this case, the academy trust running the school).

The Department for Education (DfE) issues charges when freehold property bought by the taxpayer is transferred to academy trustees. They are used to protect taxpayer investment.  It’s unclear why the DfE can’t own the freehold and lease it to academy trusts thereby keeping the asset in public hands.

IPACA Trust ‘partially satisfied’ the charge in May 2016, the same year it was sent a Financial Notice to Improve and the academy was judged inadequate. 

Company House accounts show the assets of two academies were transferred to AAT on 1 September 2017.  One of these was IPACA.  Oddly, these are described as ‘leasehold land and buildings’ and ‘other tangible fixed assets’.

But IPACA accounts clearly state the land was freehold.  AAT describes the assets as leasehold.  How come freehold became leasehold?  And why did IPACA value the freehold at £30m on 31 August 2016 but ‘nil’ on 31 August 2017 shortly before it was transferred?   IPACA’s final accounts mention something called ‘impairment’ which appeared to wipe out the value of the freehold.

There is no charge against AAT relating to the freehold of what was Portland Academy.  Puzzled, I asked the DfE what had happened to the unsatisfied part of the charge.  The response, titled  OFFICIAL SENSITIVE IPACA FOI 2019 0015227.pdf, said the DfE didn’t hold the information I requested and recommended contacting Companies House who ‘may hold the information’.

Company House documentation relating to the charge says any payment should go to 'the credit of such account as the Lender [the Secretary of State for Education] may designate'. The Statement of Satisfaction relating to IPACA was submitted by a solicitor acting for the 'Chargor', that is the person granting the charge (that is, the SoS).

I am not convinced that the DfE has no information about this charge.   Surely any satisfied or partially satisfied charge would be credited to DfE accounts?  And if the DfE doesn’t have a clue, why is the FoI response marked ‘Official Sensitive’?

I have requested an Internal Review of the DfE’s handling of my request.

 

ADDENDUM: information re grants and advances awarded to IPACA and Atlantic College are here, here and here.

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