Who pays the price – and it’s a heavy one? The taxpayer.
Who reaps the profit? Fatcat businesspeople.
And what do school pupils get?
The story of Mike Dwan is the story of an English state education system that has been thrown open to private business interests in unprecedented fashion. In his entry in the Sunday Times rich list in 2009, Dwan, then said to be worth £32m, was described as “a low-key northern property developer based in Manchester”. In reality, he is one of Britain’s private finance initiative multimillionaires: a businessman who reaped the rewards when government departments and councils went into deals with private-sector money men to build hospitals and schools, albeit at often ruinous long-term costs to the public purse because of high loan rates and huge management fees.
Today it is estimated that Dwan, from a Manchester working-class family, is worth £75m; he and his wife, Amanda, own Rusland Hall, the stately country house in the Lake District that was once home to the socialist Beatrice Webb’s family. Three of his five children are said to attend the £16,000-a-year private Windermere school where Dwan is chair of governors. In February last year the Charity Commission examined payments to Equity Solutions from Windermere because of concerns over the “number and value” of the related party transactions but, aside from some minor recommendations on disclosure and a difference of opinion on whether payments to governors were allowed under the school’s articles of association, it gave the governors a clean bill of health and took no regulatory action.
One of Dwan’s more lucrative deals has been a 2004 PFI project to deliver a new building for Parklands School, in Speke, one of the poorer parts of Liverpool. To Liverpool city council’s consternation, the deal still continues to replenish the coffers of a company, Education Solutions Speke, of which Dwan is a director and has a significant shareholding, even though the last pupils left in 2014 when the school closed down as a result of desperately poor academic results. In 2015-16 alone the taxpayer will pick up a bill for £1.36m in interest payments on Parklands. By April 2028, it will have cost taxpayers near to £90m. The complex – Parklands includes a public library, leisure centre and other council facilities – cost only £22m to build.
Dwan is undoubtedly a canny investor. He is a member of a “tax deferral” scheme run by the Invicta Film Partnership that has until recently been under investigation by HM Revenue and Customs over suspicion that it is a vehicle for tax avoidance.
It is perhaps not surprising then, given his commercial success with schools, that ES Management Services noted in its directors’ report for 2013: “In terms of expansion, one area of particular interest is the education sector. There appears to be great opportunity in this field which the procurement team are currently exploring.”
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