All things come to he who waits and a little patience has finally paid off for the chair of governors at the Grace Academy Darlaston. With tenacity anything is possible, especially if you have deep pockets.
Five years ago, the name Robert Edmiston appeared on a list of proposed Conservative working peers. The House of Lords Appointments Commission rejected the proposal after it emerged that Mr Edmiston had donated considerable amounts of money to the Conservative party. At the height of the “cash for peerages” scandal in July 2006, he was questioned by the boys in blue but when the £2million donation was re-designated as a “loan”, he avoided arrest or a caution. In these times of break-neck deficit reduction, it is not clear if the Conservative party have repaid the “loan” let alone any interest upon it.
Undeterred, he continued to pursue his goal and realised that under Tony Blair’s desperate rush to make the divisive Academies programme work, very wealthy individual “sponsors” of schools were being handed peerages. Anyone can “sponsor” an Academy regardless of suitability. Mr Edmiston is an Evangelical Christian who refutes evolutionary theory. At that time, all you needed was a million pounds and the government of the day would stump up the other 30 to 40 million needed to rebuild a school. So, he took out his wallet and opened the Grace Academy Solihull. No response. So he opened the Grace Academy Coventry in 2008. “Hello, can you hear me Gordon?” Nothing. Then he came hence to Darlaston and found a council more than willing to help him into the coronet and red robe trimmed with ermine.
The closure of Darlaston Community Science College in 2009 to make way for the third Grace Academy was rapid and complete. The views of teachers, parents and students were ignored and Uncle Bob did not have to wait long to acquire his latest trophy school. Indeed, it only took a month for Walsall council planning committee to reverse a decision that initially blocked the taking of half of George Rose Park to further the ambitions of Mr Edmiston. But still no peerage from the Labour government.
Pragmatic as ever, he continued to donate or “lend” money to the Conservative party as an individual, as owner of International Motors Ltd and as a senior figure of the secretive Midlands Industrial Council. Latterly he has made donations from IM Properties PLC. Between 2003 and June of this year, nearly £5million has been directed to Conservative Central Office, the West Midlands Conservatives and individual Conservative constituency groups, the most recent being £500,000 from IM Properties last January. It should be made clear that not a single penny has been given directly to the Walsall Conservative group and any suggestion that Walsall councillors have been swayed by party political donation is clearly untrue and quite preposterous.
Along with the bags of money, our hero brings with him the baggage of strange religious belief and little experience of education. He is chair of governors at the three schools he now controls which are in areas that contain a proportion of students and their families who are clearly not Christian. Academies are allowed to be secretive and are not compelled to publish information that other schools must provide so it is difficult to know what is going on inside the Grace Academies. However, parents in Coventry have dared to suggest that the gleaming multi-million pound school has been “trashed” and that Solihull has one of the worst absence rates in the country. Darlaston has its own dedicated police officer based in the school.
Six months on from the election, Julian Fellowes and Joan Bakewell may be making the headlines as our latest peers but there, waiting to join the ranks of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, is our own Robert Edmiston, entrepreneur, philanthropist, visionary and now a Lord. The House of Lords Appointments Commission seem to have suffered a loss of memory as they have also allowed the appointment of another millionaire party “lender”, Sir Gulam Noon as a Labour peer. He too was rejected in 2006 and also attracted the attention of the Metropolitan Police. Interestingly, the coalition has increased the number of unelected working peers in the Lords and intends to reduce the number of elected representative in the Commons. Patience is clearly a virtue.
The only issue now is what will be his title? My Lord Edmiston of Darlaston or Coventry or Solihull would not really be suitable because as a working peer, chairing a meeting of governors will be dropped like a stone compared to the delights of “the other place”. Baron Bob of Darlo?…perhaps not.
Given the basis of his massive fortune, perhaps he should style himself Lord Fuel Injection of Subaru and Isuzu.
The students at Darlaston, Solihull and Coventry can hardly wait.