Michael Gove
Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for EducationReuters

Taxpayer-funded academy groups have paid millions of pounds to private firms with personal connections to their directors and trustees, according to reports.

The Guardian, after receiving Freedom of Information request from nine academies, discovered the payments – including IT, consultancy fees, curriculums, travel, expenses and legal services.

But there is no evidence that the organisations have broken any rules and the Department for Education denies that these findings mean the academy system is open to abuse.

The Academy Transformation Trust (ATT), for example, paid £9,090 ($14,940, €10,933) net (up to 17 September 2013) to Time Marque International owned by the daughter-in-law of the trust's chief executive.

"These payments were made for the printing of marketing collateral (such as prospectus, folders, etc.) and company stationery. This business is one of three printing companies that we currently use," a spokesman for the trust said.

He added: "We can confirm that ATT (and its associated academies) have paid £48,192.01 net (up to 17 September 2013) to Gaia Technologies.

"A trustee is the managing director of this company. These payments were made for purchases of ICT hardware, software or associated support services.

"ATT is always looking for the best value for money we can achieve in all our procurement processes and ensuring best practice is at the forefront of what we do.

"All the purchases made from these two companies were done through a properly conducted, rigorous procurement process."

In addition, School Partnership Trust Academies (SPTA) revealed payments of £424,850 over two years for legal services to Wrigleys Solicitors, where the trust director Christopher Billington is a partner, and for education consultancy to Elmet Education, where another member of School Partnership Trust Academies is a director.

"It is inevitable that transactions will take place with organisations in which someone may have an interest," a spokesman for the SPTA said.

"All transactions involving such organisations are conducted at arm's length and in accordance with SPTA's financial regulations and normal procurement practices.

"The transactions are also subject to both internal and external audit. SPTA's external auditors have always issued unqualified opinions with no matters raised on the regularity opinion.

"Paul Hirst is not currently either a Director or a member of School Partnership Trust Academies. [Hirst] resigned as a Director over two years ago and resigned as a member eight months ago."

The FOI requests also found that Navigate Academies Trust had paid its sponsor's business, Navigate Resourcing Ltd (NRL), £5,400 for recruitment support service to three academies within the organisation.

The managing director of the sponsor is a trustee of Navigate Academies Trust (NAT).

"Individual academies in NAT chose to pay for a recruitment support service from the Trust sponsor's business, NRL," a spokesman for NAT said.

He added: "This totalled £5,400 in the last school year. The managing director of the sponsor is a trustee of NAT and also serves as the unpaid CEO of NAT.

"Since the trust was formed in 2012, nine members of staff have been recruited through NRL for three of its academy schools.

"This was achieved at cost, which means no profit has been made by NRL."

"Local authority-maintained schools are just as able to enter these kinds of relationships with private firms and always have been," said a spokesman for the Department for Education.

He added: "There is no evidence to suggest academies are any more or less likely to enter these contracts. The difference is that academies are far more transparent and accountable, as they are obliged to publish annual audited accounts unlike local authority-maintained schools.

"The rules are clear. No individual or organisation with a governing relationship to an academy can make a profit. Any goods or services delivered by these parties to these academies must be done so transparently and at no more than cost. And proportionate and fair procurement processes must always be followed."

Grace Academy, The Elliot Foundation, The Active Learning Trust, the Cabot Learning Federation, Arura Academies – who were all cited by the Guardian – had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publication.