During a 10-minute delay to the start of the hearing, the sound of laughter could clearly be heard from inside the committee room by those waiting in the corridor outside. The chair of the public accounts committee, Margaret Hodge, later offered a partial explanation. “We were having some trouble making head or tail of the accounts,” she said.
She was not alone. Last week, the National Audit Office issued a rare “adverse opinion” on the financial affairs of the Department for Education (DfE), saying it did not trust the accuracy of its figures. Now the committee had decided to examine the financial affairs of the Durand academy in south-west London – a school that had been held up as a flagship for the academy programme by the former education secretary, Michael Gove, and whose head, Greg Martin, was knighted for services to education in 2013 – to see if they could shed any light on where the department might be going wrong.
“Let’s get this straight, Sir Greg,” said Hodge. “You transferred the school from the Durand Academy Trust to the Durand Educational Trust in order to avoid paying corporation tax.”
Martin nodded enthusiastically. “Why bother giving the money back to the government when I can distribute it myself?” was the gist of his reply. “Because that’s a decision for the government to make,” Hodge snapped back. Martin was outraged. All he had ever done was for the benefit of the children and it was thanks to him that the academy was planning set up a state boarding school near Midhurst in Sussex.