Frances O'Grady of the TUC says private firms have "creamed off" £80 million from academies and free schools programme

The free school and academy programme has cost taxpayers nearly £80 million in private consultants’ fees, claims a new report.

Research carried out by the TUC has found that the Department for Education has paid £77 million of public funds to lawyers, head-hunters, accountants, estate agents and management consultants.

The TUC says that the money has been paid to 14 private firms which provide services to free schools and academies since the government took office.

The report also raises a series of wider concerns around the “privatisation” of education. It criticises the £500 million spent on free school building projects since the 2010 general election, adding that free schools educate just 0.3 per cent of pupils in the state sector.

It also argues there is a “conflict of interest” because senior figures in three academy chains have been donors to the Conservative party, including Lord Harris, chairman of the Harris Federation; Lord Fink, director of Ark Schools; and David Ross, founder of the David Ross Foundation.

The report also raises concerns about academies which have paid “millions of pounds into the private businesses of directors, trustees and their relatives”.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The government’s education reforms are being driven by free-market dogma rather than what is best for learners. Money that should be spent on children’s education is instead being swallowed up by private firms and in expensive property deals.

“This report highlights how companies have been allowed to cream off millions in profits from running schools and support services. Let us be under no doubt, our world-class public education system is under threat from corporate interests and our schools, colleges and universities are now less accountable to taxpayers and local communities.”

But a Department for Education spokesman said that the government had "radically reduced waste and inefficiency" in schools.

"We are cutting administration costs in the department in half, and we have cut the cost of new school buildings by around 45 per cent compared to previous inefficient and wasteful building programmes," he said.

“Under the free school programme, the National Audit Office have said that ‘many new schools have been established quickly and at relatively low cost'.”