Secondary schools in financial muddle
EXCLUSIVE By John Elworthy AUDITORS have refused to give a clean bill of health to all of Cambridgeshire s secondary schools after discovering a catalogue of errors in the way some of them handle cash and run their affairs. Councillor Timothy Stone, chair
By John Elworthy
AUDITORS have refused to give a clean bill of health to all of Cambridgeshire's secondary schools after discovering a catalogue of errors in the way some of them handle cash and run their affairs.
Councillor Timothy Stone, chairman of the county council audit and accounts committee, said: "The challenge for schools is that because they have volunteers running governing bodies, some are more financially skilled than others."
But faced with a barrage of criticisms - including the case of cash for a special school being wrongly paid direct into a staff member's private bank account- Cllr Stone is determined things will improve.
In a report to today's committee, Helen Maneuf, head of audit, scrutiny and information governance, points out that of 29 secondary schools assessed, only 13 met the financial management standard first time round.
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Of the remainder, 11 met the standard after a 20-day action plan was implemented, but a further five did not meet the standard and in those schools auditors will be sent in during the coming months.
Her report also pin points the case of one of the county's pupil referral units where, in April, it came to light "that a significant amount of grant income had been paid into the private bank account of a member of staff. The money had been paid back in entirety."
Cllr Stone said: "Apparently it was also done quite honestly, but clearly the committee will want to get to the bottom of this case, which was brought to light by internal review procedures. The job of internal audit is to uncover this kind of discrepancy and to assure councillors that proper action has been taken."
Cllr Stone said: "We have essentially a system where a heavy burden is placed on the shoulders of a highly dedicated band of voluntary governors and school staff. "Introduction of a new devolved accounting system has brought with it more flexibility but more challenges for schools. "
Cllr Stone said that in the case of the 11 schools not meeting the financial management standard "we are now happy that, with some extra work the correct procedures are in place to ensure the standard is met.
"Where we see that money has gone astray, our job is to make sure action is taken so it doesn't happen again. The record of continuous improvement is good."
Ms Maneuf's report also points out more training is essential for governors and staff responsible for finances in schools.
She also notes a "history of small scale cash thefts" in the 16 Plus Advisory service which provides subsistence and travel and leaving care grants and also helps asylum seekers.
In April £1,332 was stolen from the business support office and despite a police probe, there was insufficient evidence to identify how the theft occurred or who may have been involved.