The 2013 Academies Financial Handbook is effective from 1 September 2013 replacing the 2012 edition. This guidance document is essential reading for converting schools, describing the financial management and control requirements for academy trusts. Asset management continues to be covered within the publication, challenging academies to include the management and oversight of assets as part of an internal control framework.
Securing ‘value for money’ in the conduct of the academy trust’s financial management is given extra focus in the 2013 edition which is effective from 1 September.
Section 1 – Roles and Responsibilities
The board of trustees has wide discretion over its use of the trust's funds. It is responsible for the proper stewardship of those funds and for ensuring economy, efficiency and effectiveness in their use – the three key elements of value for money.
- value for money – this is about achieving the best possible educational and wider societal outcomes through the economic, efficient and effective use of all the resources in the trust’s charge, the avoidance of waste and extravagance, and prudent and economical administration
Of course this mantra should hold true for any organisation and effective asset management is a key tool in making sure your budget is used for providing pupils with an excellent education, not paying for excess overhead.
Adopting a dedicated asset management solution can make real cost savings that quickly justify any initial investment. It can prevent spending money on unnecessary equipment when you might already have spare resources including software licences. Bringing in an automated auditing system and service can also save hundreds of man hours, dramatically freeing up time for school IT, Finance and Admin staff during the busy academy conversion period. Going forward, capital depreciation, asset tracking, insurance claims, procurement planning, budget forecasting and software licensing are all made easier, focusing academy resources where it really counts.
Within Section 2 - Financial Oversight and Internal Control, the Handbook explicitly directs academies to manage their assets
The academy trust’s internal control framework must have regard to:
- the management and oversight of assets;
- including maintenance of adequate fixed asset registers;
Many schools will try to meet these guidelines by relying on a spreadsheet which has a number of drawbacks. There are a number of different school departments who can benefit from the information contained in an asset register, information such as licence usage, warranties, capital depreciation, PAT testing schedules, even power consumption. Each department will be looking for a different set of data presented in a specific way – it would be problematic for a spreadsheet to accommodate all of these requirements. An asset management system is designed to easily record any supporting asset information and output that information in the form of automated reports giving different users the information they need in the format they want– often as a one-click operation.
Even assuming everyone who needs to touch the asset spreadsheet has the advanced computer skills necessary to generate the figures they require, there are potentially many users dipping in and out of the same spreadsheet or a situation where information is spread across a number of different spreadsheets. As with any manual process, creating and updating spreadsheet reports by hand is error prone. Spreadsheets also lack a data audit trail making it difficult to manage the risk of inaccurate or inconsistent information being captured.
An asset management system will keep all your asset information in one place using a structured data entry format. User logins can be also be set up to give staff access to just the information they need and track changes made in the database, protecting data from inadvertent or intentional data corruption.
A spreadsheet is only designed to hold information in a certain way – costs and basic descriptions work well but useful supporting information such as photographs, purchase receipts and warranties are difficult to accommodate in a spreadsheet format. Asset management software can accept many different types of field data on individual assets, giving a complete picture. Additionally asset management software can display assets as a virtual map of your school using icons to represent different kinds of equipment making the user interface very intuitive and accessible to all levels of user.
Richard Nichols, Head of Sales for SG World said: “Often a school appreciates the benefits of making the move to an asset management system and wants to make it happen but it looks like a daunting task. AudIT - SG World’s asset management software, includes features which make it easy to input asset data information, csv imports for existing datasheets, bar code scanning applications for mobile phones and a user friendly interface.”
“We also offer an onsite asset discovery service. We can come in and do everything for you over a couple of days, showing your staff the ropes and leaving you in a position to pick up the system and run with it. Or alternatively you may decide to use this external auditing resource on an annual basis. We give you as little or as much support as you need.”
Section 2 – Internal Control goes on to say that securing the right insurance cover is another key requirement for academies.
The academy trust must:
- ensure that it has adequate insurance cover. The trust should determine its own level of cover but should include buildings and contents, business continuity, employer’s and public liability and any cover required for motor vehicles.
Again this is an area which relies on a good asset management system which allows an academy to discover the real value of its assets, potentially decreasing the insurance premium. For example, a laptop can lose up to 70% of its value over a two year period. Setting the amount insured for contents can be tricky without an accurate asset register. A dedicated asset management system will ensure a school has:
Tracking your assets fulfils a further aspect of Section 2 - Internal Control, the duty to:
ensure that all the trust’s property is under the control of the trustees, and that measures are in place to prevent losses or misuse
An networked system can log where items are each time they’re moved and know exactly where they should be – a process especially useful for portable electronics that might be a valuable target for theft. This powerful tool works across the network to discover the full specification of connected PCs, the location of all installed software, notifies you of changes to the computers or new software installations and tracks changes made to any school computer while they are offsite.
Finally the 2013 Handbook gives multi trust academies more freedom to pool funding:
A multi-academy trust has the freedom to amalgamate a proportion of GAG funding for all its academies to form one central fund.
This flexibility is potentially very useful but to make the most out of it you need to be able to consolidate your financial data including assets in to one big picture. Richard Nichols said: “AudIT asset management software has unique virtual map interface lets management view assets at a group level so you can optimise assets across multiple sites and also leverage extra purchasing power across a multi academy trust.”
“Converting to an academy can put a lot of pressure on schools who possibly haven’t given a lot of thought to asset management before. SG World has the solution and the support in place to help fledgling academies quickly and painlessly get on top of asset management and make the right financial decisions for their future."