Everton school in stand-off with Central Beds Council over pension ‘mistakes’

Everton Heath Primary School
Everton Heath Primary School

An Everton school is fighting back after it claims Central Beds Council tried to offload its liabilities over pension arrears.

Everton Heath Primary School is transitioning to an academy but the process has been halted after solicitors noticed CBC had attempted to “dodge” potential arrears for pensions.

The school’s chair of governors told a full council meeting that the circumstances were “shocking to say the least”.

It is understood that between 2007 and 2013 in Central Beds, there were cases of contributions missed from teachers signed up with the pension scheme, and others wrongly taken from those who had opted out.

To cover these arrears, CBC has included a clause within the commercial transfer agreement that offloads these liabilities to academy trusts once schools have converted.

Everton Heath’s chair of governors Nabeel Mardi said: “How is it fair for a trust to take over mistakes and liabilities that the local authority is responsible for?

“They are opening us up to risk that we can’t possibly assess... They won’t tell us how many schools are affected and we can’t quantify how much money we’re talking about.”

After a successful consultation with parents last year, Everton began the process of transitioning to an academy as part of CAM Trust – which runs 14 schools in South Cambridgeshire.

The target date for conversion was June 1, however this was halted after solicitors spotted the extra clauses added to the commercial transfer agreement.

Guidance from the Department for Education sets out the standard contract for academies and CBC is the only known local authority to have added in such a clause. Local authorities usually remain liable for school pensions that predate the transfer.

Mr Mardi added: “We argued that this seems an unfair clause but CBC have said they won’t sign the commercial transfer agreement if we don’t agree to it.

“Our understanding is that in some cases, £12,000 to £15,000 is owed. A lot of the teachers we have are young. Imagine a teacher joining in their early 20s but they don’t identify the discrepancy until retirement – the potential costs are huge.”

The Department for Education has chosen not to intervene in the dispute, leaving matters between the school and the council at a standstill.

Sue Harrison, Central Bedfordshire Council’s director of children’s services, said: “These claims are just not accurate.

“We’ve done everything we can to support Everton Heath Primary School, first with their move to become a primary, and now with their journey to academisation.

“We have worked closely with the Department for Education and done everything we can to assist the school, mitigate the risk and put a cap on the risk.

“It was in 2013 when we approved the Teachers’ Pensions clauses that set out the transferring of liabilities.

“This has not hindered any conversions and we have had 20 schools become academies in the last five years.

“We recently wrote a letter to the chairman of the school’s board of governors outlining this and that the liability in relation to pension arrears is set at a maximum of three per cent of the budget share, which is also the case for council maintained schools.

“In 2013, there were no cases of teachers’ pensions arrears identified for Everton Heath Primary School through the retrospective checking of current and leaver records held by Central Bedfordshire Council.”