Probe begins into Swiss Cottage Academy deal with UCL

BY Susanna Wilkey AN investigation into Camden Council s so-called backroom deal with UCL over the sponsorship of the borough s flagship academy kicked off in court today. Parent Gillian Chandler has brought a judicial review against the way Camden Council and the secret

AN investigation into Camden Council's so-called "backroom deal" with UCL over the sponsorship of the borough's flagship academy kicked off in court today.

Parent Gillian Chandler has brought a judicial review against the way Camden Council and the secretary of state chose UCL as the new academy's sponsor.

The mum, who lives near the Adelaide Road site where the school is due to be built, has two primary school age children and is supported by parents and teachers across the borough who agree that a lack of open competition was unfair.

If a judge decides it was unlawful, it will derail not just Camden's plans but could have serious repercussions for the government's academy programme across the country.

Barrister David Wolfe, acting for Ms Chandler, kicked off the proceedings, which are expected to last until Tuesday.

He said: "Meetings at the highest level go back to 2005 between Camden and UCL. The tone and nature of these meetings changed in a distinctive way in 2006 when the council changed administration."

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By September 2006 UCL had put forward an outline vision to the council after Lehman Brothers pulled out as potential co-sponsors in June.

"By December 2006 there are three organisations who have a strong interest in running an academy in Camden," Mr Wolfe said.

"But two of them do not see any discussion from Camden - the London Diocese and Ark because it seems they have already made up their mind."

In January 2007 Tom Peryer from the London Diocese wrote to leader of the council Keith Moffit to formally register an interest in potential sponsorship, after verbally telling him about it the previous September.

Later that month Keith Moffit replied. Mr Wolfe said: "He responded saying that he had forwarded the letter and at this stage they are looking at how to move it forward, despite being in high level talks with UCL at this stage.

"There was never any discussion or openmindedness about the preferred sponsor being anyone else than UCL."

By February Mr Peryer had emailed all Camden councillors requesting to be given the opportunity to present the Diocese's vision for any new school in the borough, which prompted a meeting in April.

Between May and July the council held a public consultation but Mr Wolfe said: "People were being asked about what they thought about a list of attributes for a school - not about what type of school it should be or who the sponsor should be."

The London Diocese sent its contribution to the consultation in June saying: "It is puzzling that the council has not asked for any views on the particular status of any new school nor has it asked the question as to whether any new school should be opened up to competition....

"We believe this raises a doubt as to how open the council is with regard to inviting proposals and bids from a range of providers; we hope this doubt is groundless...."

A day later Cllr John Bryant sent a copy of his private briefing for Liberal Democrat Governors to other councillors.

Mr Wolfe said: "It shows a clear prejudice against a potential faith school and clear party political motivation for not holding a competition."

The email said: "I think there are big risks in proceeding with a competition for our new school. We would be obliged to bid for a community school and would likely lose, providing an own goal for the opposition and damaging our reputation."

At a full council meeting on July 25 UCL was approved as preferred sponsor despite former Cllr Mike Green stating at the meeting: "I am certainly not convinced that we have been playing from a level playing field....

"I am very afraid that whether we feel....there can still be the appearance of it being a backroom deal."

The hearing continues.


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