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CIF funding re-opens for 2020-21 – but with more penalty points

The next round of Condition Improvement Fund (CIF) for 2020-21 is now open for applications with the window closing at 12 noon on 13 December 2019 – a day after the snap General Election.

The usual “information for applicants” guide can be found on the ESFA website here and should be read by all who are looking to apply.

For this round the ESFA have introduced some new criteria which again encourages Academy Trusts to sharpen their governance and financial management positions. Below we have produced a summary of the key changes.

Excessive Executive Pay (EEP)

Firstly, what do the ESFA mean by EEP? Well below is the criteria which applies:

  • Paying 2 or more executive salaries of £100k+ or paying 1 or more salaries of £150k+ (as per the latest Financial Statements); and
  • There is evidence of educational or financial underperformance; and/or
  • The trust has agreed to reduce executive salaries within a timescale but not achieved this; and/or
  • There has been an increased spend in £100k+ executive salaries with no change in the Trust’s structure (as per the latest Financial Statements)

Should any Academy Trust meet these criteria then either 4 points will be deducted from their score (where the Trust operates outside of London) or 1 point will be deducted (Trusts operating with a majority of schools in London).

Should your Trust still have a sufficient point score to be awarded CIF funding, then you will only be awarded the funding if you agree to take steps to address EEP.

It would appear the ESFA’s argument is that if Trusts can afford to pay “excessive” salaries, then they can afford to undertake capital funding projects.

Schools Resource Management Advisors (SRMA) visits

As with the last round of funding, the ESFA would like all those that are successful with their applications to also receive a SRMA visit. Trusts will not receive any CIF funding towards their successful application until this visit is arranged.

In addition, those who have received SRMA visits in 2017/18 or 2018/19 will be expected to have responded any recommendations otherwise there will be 4 points deducted from their score. Those received visits in July/August 2019 will have a 6-month window to respond or face a 4-point deduction.

Funding Agreements

Those Trusts with a Funding Agreement dated post December 2014 will receive a bonus point towards their application score. Those who do not have such an agreement in place will be expected to commit to moving over to the latest version by March 2020 to also receive a bonus point.

Financial Viability and Governance

Trusts with financial viability concerns could see 4 points deducted from their score if they do not have improvement plan in place by March 2020. The criteria for defining a concern is below:

  • 2019 financial statements show a cumulative deficit
  • The Budget Forecast Return Outturn (BFRO) or Budget Forecast Return (BFR) submitted in 2019 show financial issues with little evidence of improvement or action taken
  • Financial returns have been submitted to the ESFA late on more than one occasion
  • Auditors have raised underperformance in their management letters and the responses are not adequate

Those Trusts not subject to any concern or ESFA intervention will also see points deductions as follows:

  • Trusts with late returns as per the published 2018/19 “naughty” list will see 2 points deducted
  • Trusts missing the 31 December 2019 accounts filing deadline by more than 14 days will see 2 points deducted
  • Trusts with a qualified audit opinion, disclaimer opinion or adverse audit opinion will see 1 point deducted

Just one more….

In addition to the above criteria changes, another key point is those Trusts with successful projects valued at more than £1 million will only be approved in principle subject to further review of value for money and deliverability. This will also apply to all expansion projects.

Summary

With the new criteria being introduced above that the ESFA are once again reminding Trusts how important it is for their financial management and governance procedures to be robust. It also feels although the ESFA have possibly had their fingers burnt once too often by Trusts where they have concerns.

It remains to be seen whether these new criteria will result in a decline in applications this time round – the recent pattern has been continuous growth in applications – and perhaps Trusts will look to their local authorities for financial support in capital projects where the rules are less stringent.

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