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Tuesday, 26 July 2011 20:14

Medway Council and the Woodlands Primary School scandal

The story so far (with full acknowledgement to Alan Watkins of the Medway Messenger who has exposed the scandal of the Woodlands Primary School in Gillingham. His blog provides fuller details and opinion). The Audit Committee of Medway Council considered a Report on 5th July that makes shocking reading..........


Woodlands Primary School in Gillingham commissioned a £750,000 building contract without proper authority from Medway Council, whose lack of process for approving the funding appears an absolute shambles according to their own report. The contract was awarded to a company owned by the school site manager (who is married to the Deputy Headteacher) without going through a tendering process as required by European law. This is just one of a number of serious breaches of Medway Council regulations.  A major cost increase of £525,000 was approved by Medway Council without questioning of the reasons for the overspend. A quote from the Report: "The summary of findings from internal audit dated 25 March 2010 reaches a conclusion that 'this entire project can perhaps be described, at best, as a catalogue of errors'". If this is at best, one shudders to think what the worst is! The failure of the project to involve the Health and Safety Executive, and the lack of any technical advice on H&S, led to considerable breaches of regulations, including enormous consequences once the presence of asbestos was established, and a number of structural stability faults were identified. Rectification of the structural faults cost the council at least another half million pounds (I found it difficult to follow all the additional sums mentioned in the report).

The following analysis of the Key Failings of project management from the Medway Council Report makes horrifying reading.

Medway Council Woodlands Primary School Site Manager & Main contractor
Project approved by officers without a full
knowledge of the costs involved, plans or
management control arrangements.  The
project proceeded on the basis of funds
Project not subject to Medway’s procurement
rules.  Despite the school’s protestations,
there is clear evidence that the Headteacher
instructed the main contractor.  The school’s
chair of governors confirmed that she thought
the school was managing the project.
Conflict of interest of employee acting as main
contractor.  Failed to ensure that Medway’s
two core values were delivered
Project “delegated” to school without
knowledge of how the school delivered
previous self managed project (sports hall)
Following from the above, no evidence of
good VFM (Value for Money)
Quality of work as evidenced by rectification
Project “delegated” to school without issue of
any written guidance on how the project
should be managed
Conflict of interest of employee acting as main
contractor, without following appropriate
procurement rules
Inadequate record keeping (alleged open
book policy), resulted in contractor being
unable to prove substance of his invoices
Member approval sought on inadequate
Main contractor’s suitability as he is a
specialist door engineer
Clear breaches of Heath & Safety issues
Members not asked to approve delegation to
school, thereby, in Members’ minds, they
were delegating to officers to manage this
project (not the school)
Absence of scrutiny of invoices before
payment, a clear breach of Medway’s Finance
Manual for Schools.  No challenge of invoices
submitted or requesting additional supporting
No attempts were made to monitor the capital
budget, instead relying on the school to alert
them to issues.  This also means that
Members were mislead as to the project’s true
financial position.  Any officer action here
would have alerted them to the differing
opinions held on managing this project
Invoice payment arrangements were solely for
the benefit of the contractor.
A complete absence of understanding of the
risks involved.This was not pusued with the
required vigour.
A complete absence of understanding of the
risks involved
Poor VFM obtained
Poor VFM obtained Clear breaches of Heath & Safety issues
Clear breaches of Heath & Safety issues

Mr Simon Trotter, Deputy Director of Children's Services, has now left the Authority.


Last modified on Thursday, 18 October 2012 23:03

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