Glemsford Primary School and the "free" laptops...

Glemsford Primary School' website somewhat unfortunately
boasts of a "modern ICT suite"
They say there is no such thing as a free lunch and a cautionary tale from Glemsford Primary School shows the truth of this and another cliche that if it sounds too good to be true it probably is. BBC Radio 5 conducted an investigation into a scam affecting several schools including Glemsford, you can download a podcast of the show to listen to the full horror of the scam but basically it goes like this:

1. Company providing a photocopier on a lease say that they have "free" laptops available. How many do you want?
2. School say, er are they really free if so 20 please
3. Company say yes they really are free, are you sure you don't want more, say 100
4. School says we don't have room for 100, company says they are free, you sure?
5. School says OK then
6. Company says to "comply with competition law" you need to sign a lease but don't worry we will cover the payments so it is really free
7. School signs lease, company gets full payment from bank and company does indeed reimburse the school for payments..well for a few months
8. Company goes into administration. Stops making payment
9. Bank demands payments from the school it emerges that they owe some half a million pounds, about the same as their annual budget
10. It further emerges that the school are paying around £3600 each for laptops worth £400

We can only speculate where the money to pay for these "free" laptops has ended up. The company Direct Technology Solutions Ltd were apparently quoted as saying that it was no crime to make a profit but information about the case is apparently in the hands of the Police.

In the report on five live the school's IT technician,  James Loker-Steele spoke very much like a consumer who was the victim of a scam and clearly there have been sharp practices here with the school told something that later turns out not to be true.

The report goes on to detail more cases including one where a school signed a lease without any figures on it. When the company added the figures they were much higher than the school was told. Understandably in this case the school declined to be named and in the report an interview was even voiced over by actors.

Apparently Suffolk County Council have now launched an investigation into the Glemsford case. Interestingly the County Council are quoted as saying they found out abut the case on Monday presumably after media reports of the radio investigation. They say they are now looking into how they can support the school but not telling the local authority until after a member of staff discusses the case with the media looks like the last in a series of questionable decisions by the school.

If no legal way can be found to release the school from the lease then Suffolk taxpayers could end up picking up the half million pound tab for this and questions will be asked about the due diligence undertaken by the school. Really they should have walked away as soon as they were offered "free goods" but certainly signing a lease for free equiptment ought to have been a red flag and prompted the school to seek some proper legal advice before signing.

As well as "supporting the school" the local authority investigation might conclude that the school's delegated budget should be withdrawn or subject to limitations or that individuals have a case to answer. Somewhat surprisingly there is no mention of any Governor involvement in this decision and that is another thing that needs to be investigated.

The radio report mentioned that schools are more and more managing their own budgets - especially with so many becoming academies - and with this clearly comes the responsibility to ensure that they are spent properly and to seek appropriate advice. Transactions involving schools are "business to business" transactions and not protected by legislation designed to cover consumers. Whilst I would like to see a full investigation into the sharp practices for the company I also think the school has questions to answer and it certainly stands as a cautionary take for other schools to take particular care over these kind of transactions.
Glemsford Primary 9067169374576948580

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