Tag Archives: Brighton College

The Brighton College Mystery – part 2

10 Oct

Following up my post last month about the curious business of Sir Robin wrongly declaring himself to be a governor of one of England’s most expensive independent schools, I asked Newham for an explanation.

That request got passed to Information Governance. They asked me to confirm if I wanted to file an FOI request and to state what information I wanted. My reply was to the effect “Are you serious? Wouldn’t it be easier to just send me an explanation?” They ignored that, so I filed an FOI. That prompted an extraordinarily rapid response. The following day I got this:

We can confirm that Sir Robin Wales was approached to become a member of the Board of Governors of the London Academy of Excellence in October 2011. Although he accepted this appointment in November 2011 he stepped down shortly after – in April 2012 – due to diary pressures.

The invitation to join the London Academy of Excellence Board of Governors was received on Brighton College letterhead. Unfortunately, officers incorrectly recorded on the Council’s Register of Members Interests and subsequent Mayoral Proceedings minutes as “Board of Governors at Brighton College”.

Sir Robin Wales has never been invited to join the Board of Brighton College.

So some hapless junior clerk was at fault, not the Great Man himself.

Perhaps understandable for the register of interests, but in the minutes of a meeting? You’d have to be especially cloth-eared to record the Mayor saying “I’m a governor of the London Academy of Excellence” as “I’m a governor of Brighton College” when the agenda item under discussion is about the London Academy of Excellence. And shouldn’t the Mayor at least check the minutes of Mayoral Proceedings? If he had done so he would instantly have spotted the error.

I looked up the annual report and accounts for the London Academy of Excellence for the period 23 May 2011 to 31 August 2012, which covers the time Sir Robin now says he was on their governing body.

On page 4, under ‘Constitution’ it says, “Details of the governors who served throughout the period except as noted are included in the Reference and Administrative Details on page 3.” (my emphasis added)

The list of governors on page 3 does not include Sir Robin Wales.

I contacted the London Academy of Excellence directly and yesterday they very kindly responded:

We invited Sir Robin to join the Board of Governors in mid-Oct 2011. He replied on 20 Dec 2011, saying that he could not take part in the interviews on 13 Jan 2012 but that he would be happy to be a governor. He formally resigned from the governing body prior to the meeting on 27 Sept 2012.

Although the dates don’t quite tie up with the entries in the Mayor’s register of interests or with the statement the Information Governance team provided, it seems that Sir Robin was a governor, albeit briefly, of the London Academy of Excellence. The omission of Sir Robin’s name from the school’s annual report must simply be an unfortunate oversight which the school needs to correct.

But even if this whole Brighton College nonsense turns out to be a cock-up rather than a conspiracy we should be no less concerned. This shows a very casual attitude to record-keeping and accountability by Sir Robin and those working closely with him. The register of interests is a significant public document: it’s how we can tell if our elected representatives are looking after our best interests or theirs. Minutes of council and committee meetings should be faithful records of what actually happened. The public must be able to rely on their accuracy.

In Newham, that is clearly not the case.

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The curious case of the governor of Brighton College

4 Sep

Brighton College

Even by the standards of Sir Robin Wales, this is distinctly odd.

At the Mayoral Proceedings of 29 March 2012 the mayor declared a personal interest in item 6 on the agenda. This concerned the proposed letting to the London Academy of Excellence of Broadway House in Stratford.

LAE is a sixth form “free school academy” aimed at the “academically ambitious” who aspire to get into a Russell Group university. It is a partnership between seven leading independent schools, including the likes of Eton and Roedean.

One of those partners is Brighton College, which the Sunday Times named as England’s Independent School of the Year 2011-12. Sir Robin’s personal interest was, as the minutes of the meeting put it, “by virtue of being a Governor of Brighton College.”

Notwithstanding his declared interest, Sir Robin approved the deal to rent Broadway House to the London Academy of Excellence on terms that included an initial 12 months rent free.

According to the the register of interests on the council’s website, the mayor had declared his connection to Brighton College in November 2011.

To the casual observer, this might look a bit peculiar. Fees at Brighton College are £27,000 a year, which is much the same as the average household income in Newham. What would the Labour mayor of one of London’s poorest areas be doing on the governing body of such a school? How could it possibly benefit the people who elected him and who pay his generous salary? And given that this was in the run-up to the 2012 Olympics Sir Robin was already pretty busy, what with being executive mayor of the main host borough and a board member of LOCOG. How would he fit it in?

Sadly the Brighton College website provided no enlightenment as to the extent of his new duties. It made no reference whatsoever to Sir Robin’s appointment and his name appeared in none their publications. Again, rather strange. Having the mayor of the Olympic borough and the host for their new 6th form venture join the governing body would surely be something they would mention?

The Charity Commission website was no more helpful. Charities are required to publish an annual report, including a list of their trustees. Like most independent schools, Brighton College is a charity and their governors are the trustees. Again, Sir Robin’s name was not mentioned.

Perhaps they just hadn’t got round to it. The last annual report was for the year ending 31 July 2011, so Sir Robin had not yet been appointed when it was written. I put it to the back of my mind.

Then a couple of weeks ago something – I’m not sure what – prompted me to check back. There was still no mention anywhere on the Brighton College website and a Google search for “Sir Robin Wales + Brighton College” yielded only two useful results – the Newham council register of interests and the minutes of the Mayoral Proceedings.

The register of interests had been updated and the list of changes showed that at the end of May 2012 the entry for Brighton College had been removed. That was just six months after it had been added and a bare two months after Sir Robin had declared his personal interest at Mayoral Proceedings. It appeared that his term as governor had been a very short one.

The Charity Commission website had a new annual report for Brighton College covering the year ending 31 July 2012, the period in which Sir Robin had declared his interest as a governor. The report listed all those who had served as trustees during the year, but his name did not appear.

Had the school made a mistake and submitted an inaccurate report? That would be an embarrassment and quite possibly a breach of their legal obligations. I contacted them to confirm that Sir Robin had indeed been a governor and point out that his name had been omitted from their annual report.

On Monday I received a reply from the clerk to the Governing Body:

I can confirm that Sir Robin Wales has never been a governor of Brighton College.

So why on Earth had he ever said he was? Why had Sir Robin registered an interest he did not actually have and why had he declared it publicly at Mayoral Proceedings?

There may be a sensible or rational explanation, but I am at a loss as to what it might be.

It is a very curious business indeed.