Mark Rutherford school says the building of their new centre for excellence is continuing, despite £1.1 million funding for the project going missing on its way to their bank account.
The central government funding, secured through the South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership (SEMLEP), was due to be paid via Luton Borough Council in March, but it never arrived.
Police officers at the UK’s National Investigations Services (NATIS) are now investigating what appears to be a “sophisticated external criminal operation”.
But acting head at the school, Kelli Foster, says “work is continuing and builders are still being paid.”
Final SEMLEP Board approval for the funding, albeit from a different funding pot, will be made today, with payment to be made early next week.
“We remain excited about our new STEM facility,” she said. “Work has continued throughout the lockdown and NATIS investigations.”
“We will formally open with seven new classrooms and a lecture theatre providing state of the art facilities to support teaching and learning, as well as our award winning extra-curricular provision in this area.”
The new facility at the school will support STEM education and allow for further growth at the secondary school.
SEMLEP told the Bedford Independent, that a payment intended for the school being made by Luton Borough Council was “subjected to external, sophisticated organised fraud”.
But Judith Barker, Director of Programmes and Governance at SEMLEP reassured Mark Rutherford pupils and parents that the crime will not affect Mark Rutherford’s plans.
“Whilst this investigation is ongoing, SEMLEP is looking at all available options to provide the missing funds to the school so that the STEM project is not interrupted,” she said.
Judith added that SEMLEP is “working hard, with all partners involved” and continues to “fully support Mark Rutherford School and the STEM Centre of Excellence.”
Further details about funding are expected “in the coming days”.
A spokesperson for Luton Borough Council said, “We believe there has been a sophisticated external criminal operation and the matter has been referred to the National Investigation Service who are investigating.
“We have not been told that any member of staff at Luton Council is under investigation. It would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.”
How SEMLEP supports funding in our area
SEMLEP guides funding from central government to local projects as part of their role as a local enterprise partnership.
They award funding to projects that support sustainable growth, job creation and community prosperity in our region.
Once agreed, funds are transferred from central government to Luton Borough Council’s bank account, SEMLEP’s Accountable Body, they are then distributed to local projects.
NATIS, the police’s National Investigation Service, is responsible for investigating serious fraud and financial crime affecting local government.
- Correction: This article was amended on 19 June 2020 at 19:47 to correct when new SEMLEP funding would be paid. We originally stated this would be on the 19 June, where in fact approval from the SEMLEP board was only being made on this date and payment will be made the following week.