Ordinary folk like us are sometimes taken aback by the sheer brass-necked cheek exhibited by Tory politicians and we don’t just mean Osborne’s ‘We are all in this together’ mantra!
Take the case of Robert Edmiston, for example.
In the Sunday Times Rich List 2013 Robert Edmiston was ranked 209th of the wealthiest people in the UK with an estimated fortune of £440million. He made his money in the motor trade and through property and vehicle finance. One of his ventures was the acquisition of the Subaru car dealerships in the UK – there is one on the Otley Road at the top of Pool Bank.
Mr Edmiston is an evangelical and explicitly anti-gay marriage Christian who makes large donations to charities, including Christian Vision. Through his charities he is the sponsor of three secondary schools, under the single umbrella of Grace Foundation. These schools lie within the English academy programme in the West Midlands; the Grace Academies in Coventry, Solihull and Darlaston. He is the chair of the governors at each school.
Mr Edmiston also makes donations to the Tory party – we are talking millions of pounds – either directly through loans or donations or though the medium of the shadowy Midlands Industrial Council (MIC).
Here, a brief digression is in order. The MIC is an ‘unincorporated association’ which means it does not need to publish accounts or disclose the names of its members. It is very active and has close associations with the discredited right-wing Tory ex-minister, Liam Fox, UKIP’s Nigel Farage and Lord Ashcroft. The MIC also sponsors The Taxpayers Alliance.
Other MIC members include Tony Gallagher, owner of Gallagher Estates and Gallagher Developments, one of Britain’s largest house builders and Sir Anthony Bamford, head of the JCB digger company.
According to the Birmingham Post, Gallagher controls a vast land bank. Bamford is a frequent companion of Cameron on his business trips abroad. Additionally, Gallagher and Bamford are part of the Chipping Norton set that also includes Rebekah and Charlie Brooks.
Further information about the MIC here.
We can now return to Robert Edmiston. He was nominated as a peer in 2005 but his nomination was blocked by the House of Lords Appointments Committee following the ‘cash for peerage’ row. He was finally awarded a peerage, however, by David Cameron in 2010 and now sits on the Conservative benches in the House of Lords with the title Baron Edmiston of Lapworth, Warwickshire.
Why are we interested in this?
Well, on our website the two-faced and disingenuous Liberal Democrats are often the butt of our criticism. But when it comes to playing political games they are not in the same league as the Tories.
So occasionally it is worth reminding ourselves of just what decent, ordinary voters are up against when confronted by the Tory political machine.
Baron Edmiston is a good example of how the Tories do business.
Let’s recall that he sponsors three Academies in the West Midlands.
Academies are publicly-funded independent schools that the Department for Education characterises as follows:
– Academies don’t have to follow the national curriculum and can set their own term times. They still have to follow the same rules on admissions, special educational needs and exclusions as other state schools.
– Academies get money direct from the government, not the local council.
– They’re run by an academy trust which employs the staff. Some academies have sponsors such as businesses, universities, other schools, faith or voluntary groups. Sponsors are responsible for improving the performance of their schools.
The issue of sponsorship is a vexed one. The Labour party has called for sponsorship to be more transparent and for academy schools to be brought under parental supervision.
The Guardian’s website of 13th January alleges that Lord Edmiston’s Grace Academy, which sponsors three academies, has paid more than £1m either directly to or through companies owned or controlled by Lord Edmiston, trustees’ relatives and to members of the board of trustees. Payments include:
– £533,789 to International Motors Limited, a company owned by the Baron, and £4,253 to Subaru UK Ltd, where he is the ultimate controlling party.
– More than £173,000 to the Grace Foundation and Christian Vision.
– £108,816 has been paid to a company controlled by the son-in-law of one trustee.
The Guardian reports that Grace Academy also employs Gary Spicer, the brother of Lady Edmiston, as its executive director, on a salary of £30,000 plus pension. Spicer’s own company received more than £367,732 from Grace Academy over the last six years for consultancy work.
According to The Guardian, Judi Wood, the academy’s director of corporate development confirmed the total net contribution to the academy from related parties amounted to more than £4.5m, while the amount paid by the academy’s sponsor, which was founded by Edmiston, was £5m. Christian Vision has provided offices worth £57,000 a year, she said, while International Motors financed the academy’s development, which were reimbursed at cost. “Grace Academy and those it serves in education, have benefited hugely from the substantial financial support offered by Grace Foundation and from the time and resources offered by trustees,” she said.
For an account of Lord Edmiston and his wider family visit: http://thelions.org.uk/philosophy/
The Guardian stresses and we affirm that there is no implication that either the Grace Academy or schools directors and trustees have broken any rules, and all insisted that they had been properly audited.
The findings, however, have led to shadow schools minister, Kevin Brennan, calling for David Cameron and the education secretary, Michael Gove, to look into this type of sponsorship practice as a matter of urgency.
“David Cameron has failed to put in place the appropriate checks over academy chain funding decisions, prioritising pace of expansion over the protection of public money and school standards …. It is deeply concerning that so much taxpayer money is ending up in the pockets of academy chain directors and trustees.”
Further details on this topic here.
The coalition’s expansion of the academy section of primary and secondary education in England – there are currently 16 in Leeds alone – has led to far too many problems. The latest example concerns the arrest of Mr Sajid Raza, the headteacher of Bradford Kings Science Academy. Mr Raza is suspected of fraud at a school that David Cameron had earlier praised.
Closer to home, readers will remember the controversy over the decision by Prince Henry’s Otley to apply for academy status. Virtually all local opinion – including the town council, the Airedale and Wharfedale branch of the Labour party, the vicar, nine out of nineteen school governors and even our local MP – was against applying but all to no avail. In order to maintain a sufficient income to retain its staff, Prince Henry’s Otley became an academy in December 2011.
Once Mr Gove and his equally ideology-driven supporters such as Baron Edmiston of Lapworth place their grubby hands on the levers of power virtually nothing can stop them doing as they like.
Under cover of preaching localism they impose centralism and under the cover of democracy they bulldoze their way across the educational landscape.
And the supine Lib Dems, who are in a position to stop them, let them get away with it.
Britain Can Do Better Than This
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