Academy trust handbook 2022
Since early July, CEFM has been asking the DfE/ESFA to inform us when the latest version of the academy trust handbook (ATH) would be published. For weeks there was no response at all, but in early August we received an email from the DfE saying that academies should continue to use the 2021 version next term. It did not say when or indeed if an updated version would be produced. So we had made preparations to let schools know as soon as term started that this would be the case, at least for the start of the academic year.
Then on 24 August, the ESFA finally published a pdf version of an updated handbook for 2022, due to come into force just a week later on 1 September.
To be fair, there was an apology for the lateness of the document and an assurance that it contains few major changes. It reads: ‘This year’s edition places no new requirements on trusts and we hope this will make implementation more straightforward for you’. Nevertheless, it gives leaders, finance and governance professionals as well as auditors very little time to make sure they are acting within the rules and to make any necessary adjustments, because, at least theoretically, trusts that fail to comply with the handbook risk breaking their funding agreements.
Layout still the same
The layout of the document has not changed:
- Part 1 Roles and responsibilities.
- Part 2 Main financial requirements.
- Part 3 Internal scrutiny.
- Part 4 Annual accounts and external audit.
- Part 5 Delegated authorities.
- Part 6 The regulator and intervention.
- Parts 7–9 Definitions, schedule of requirements, further reading.
We summarise below the main changes:
- There will no longer be a need for trusts to seek ESFA approval for indemnities if they are unavoidable ‘in the normal course of business’. Any novel, contentious or repercussive indemnities still require approval (paragraph 5.19) Trusts are now expected to maintain contract registers of known indemnities. Further guidance is to follow.
- The restrictions on all religious authorities (‘related parties’) services to help trusts develop their religious character and ethos have been loosened. Currently related parties other than dioceses can only provide trusts with such services if they are at cost and follow open, fair competition (paragraph 5.57).
- In accordance with HM Treasury’s Guidance on Public Sector Exit Payments, trusts only need prior ESFA approval before they issue the special (non-statutory/ non-contractual ) part of any severance (paragraph 5.12).
- Trusts no longer have to submit an academies budget forecast outturn each May, but from now on they need only submit the annual academies budget forecast return each July (paragraph 2.15).
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