Wednesday, 10 August 2022

School's £35,000 heating bill row

GILLOTTS School has been landed with a £35,000 bill for a heating system that doesn’t work

GILLOTTS School has been landed with a £35,000 bill for a heating system that doesn’t work.

The Henley secondary had two boilers replaced in 2008 and 2009 but they never worked properly.

Now it claims Oxfordshire County Council is refusing to pay to fix them because the school has since opted out of its control and become an academy.

Meanwhile, engineering contractor Mouchel, which was appointed by the council to install the new boilers, can’t find the relevant paperwork.

Nick Walden, chairman of governors, said there were teething problems with the equipment but these were expected to be overcome by the time the school became an academy in February last year.

“However, shortly after conversion, the heating failed and it transpired that not only had one of the boilers never been fully commissioned but there were very serious failings in the installation of both of them,” he said.

Mr Walden said Mouchel had admitted to the school that it had lost the paperwork.

“As anyone with any experience of construction disputes will know, without it we cannot prove who is responsible,” he said.

“Worse, apart from making a small initial contribution to the cost of emergency works when the heating first failed, the county council has completely washed its hands of the problem.

“We effectively have no legal remedy against anyone and we are out of pocket to the tune of about £35,000, which roughly equates to the cost of employing a teacher for a year.

“It is scandalous that the county council is failing to take responsibility for a situation that is clearly not the academy’s making.

“I cannot over-emphasise how angry I am about this. Whatever the legal niceties, the county council has a clear moral responsibility to sort this out for us.

“It claims to support its schools in converting to academies but there is little evidence of this from where I sit.”

Councillor David Nimmo Smith, who represents Henley on the county council, said the school was the “innocent party”.

He said: “The boilers were installed when the school was under the county council’s remit and the school has had problems with them ever since.

“When the school went to academy status it said, ‘give us the paperwork and we will pursue the contractor to get the work done’ but Mouchel has not been able to provide it.

“The school has said that if the information can’t be provided how can it be expected to deal with the problem, so we are in a bit of a log jam and the county staff seem to be playing hardball.”

Henley Mayor Stefan Gawrysiak, a former assistant headteacher at Gillotts, called on the council to sort out the problem.

He said: “The boilers were installed by the county council four years ago. If they have been working intermittently during that time then it is still the responsibility of the council to sort them out and put its hand in its pocket.”

Ian Hudspeth, the leader of Oxfordshire County Council, said: “We’re disappointed that the school has chosen to raise this matter in this way.

“Council officers are continuing to work with the school and have offered to resolve the issue in line with policies and procedures relating to academies.

“So far our offer to set up a meeting between the sub-contractor and the school has not been taken up but that offer remains open.”

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