A TROUBLED school has been ordered to improve its finances following an investigation by the education funding agency.

University Technical College (UTC) Bolton, which is currently in special measures, was investigated by the government's education and skills funding agency (ESFA).

The school, for 14-19-year-olds, has now been served with a financial notice to improve — and ordered to join a 'strong Multi-Academy Trust' in the new academic year.

The school's senior leaders say the report is not reflective of the school today — and they are looking to strengthen its position by joining forces with Bolton's top performing state school.

The investigation was launched after ESFA received anonymous allegations in May of last year regarding concerns about 'financial management and governance'.

The report has only just been published with the review identifying a number of 'significant failings and weaknesses in governance arrangements that breach the Academies Financial Handbook and validate the concerns raised'.

It was found that UTC Bolton failed to demonstrate adequate financial control and governance.

Findings included directors of the school being unable to fully demonstrate they were 'solely acting in the interests' of the UTC because of ' inadequate management of conflicts of interest' between the school and the connected parties.

The value of connected/related party payouts is estimated at £920,152.

EFSA said it found that there was no evidence of a formal procurement exercise for six suppliers — three of which are classed as connected and/or related parties: University of Bolton, Bright Tribe Education Services Ltd and Greater Manchester UTC.

UTC Bolton opened in September, 2015, sponsored by the University of Bolton.

The report highlighted that between September, 2015 and December, 2016 the trust had a Chief Executive Officer, a principal and support from the principal at Greater Manchester UTC at a total cost of £297,507.

ESFA said it was "unable to evidence a clear and strong rationale for these three roles in a UTC which was less than half full".

A statement from UTC Bolton said: "Following an on-site review, UTC Bolton has been working closely with the ESFA, to look into how the UTC has been financed and governed since the UTC opened

"The ESFA review identified a number of specific issues relating to the UTC’s past compliance with the Academies Financial Handbook and its Funding Agreement with the ESFA. Whilst the UTC has responded with action to address the concerns raised, the audit review is still contested.

"UTC Bolton will continue to work closely with the ESFA, Department for Education (DfE) and University of Bolton to ensure the highest level of governance and continued compliance with the Academies Financial Handbook is achieved.

"In addition, the UTC will build on the numerous positive aspects highlighted in the recent HMI inspection to ensure successful outcomes for all students."

A spokesman for the University of Bolton said: "The university notes the comments within the recently published report which covers a period of time relating to the early set up phase of the UTC.

"The university takes comfort from the fact that its staff worked closely with, and in the full knowledge of, the DfE at the time period to which the report relates in respect of transactions between the university, as UTC sponsor, and the new UTC itself.

"Thus, contrary to inferences the reader could reasonably make from the published report, the DfE actually encouraged and commended the closeness of the University to the UTC and indeed the university's provision of 'at cost' campus services."

He added: "Notwithstanding the university's concerns about the accuracy of the published report, it has, however, been engaged over many months with the Baker Dearing UTC Trust and the DfE to reach a resolution which is agreeable to all parties.

"It is regrettable that the DfE have chosen, when significant progress is being made, to the make the contentious ESFA report public at such a critical time in the development of the still fledgling new school; it is acknowledged that the DfE must have its reasons but it is difficult to see how the damage caused by the report will help the school."

UTC Bolton hopes to team up with Bolton Muslim Girls School which has a Multi Academy Trust status and has been graded as outstanding status by Ofsted with the rationale being that the girls could access sixth form education at UTC Bolton.

Principal and CEO of the Trust Idrish Patel said: "We were approached after our initial suggestion by UTC Bolton to submit our rationale and what benefits we can bring to the UTC.

"Our application which has widespread support from many diverse groups of the community was laid bare before Trustees of the UTC. We have been informed UTC Bolton welcomed the motion however other agencies would like the UTC to join with another trust from outside of Bolton."