A reader in the FTSE boardroom world told me sternly the other day that I should resist the temptation to join the Corbynist mob and most of today’s media in sniping at corporate capitalism, and instead celebrate its positive achievements. So, here’s a parable designed to do just that.
The Kensington Aldridge Academy is a state-of-the-art secondary school that opened in 2014 next to Grenfell Tower in North Kensington, and now has 960 pupils. ‘Aldridge’ refers to a charitable foundation created by Sir Rod Aldridge, the multimillionaire former chairman of the outsourcing giant Capita, to sponsor schools with a special focus on entrepreneurship. Some locals resented the school being built on green space that served Grenfell residents, and some anti-capitalists no doubt resented the Aldridge-Capita connection — a fortune made from outsourcing being in their eyes an ill-gotten gain from public sector shrinkage. But the school itself swiftly won praise from the Department for Education and elsewhere as a worthy example of the academy model, and has achieved a first set of excellent AS-level results. Then on 14 June came the Grenfell fire: four KAA pupils (and one former pupil) died, and the school buildings were declared out of bounds for months ahead. The solution of that crisis is the nub of this story.
From somewhere in Whitehall a call was made to Portakabin, the York-based and third-generation family-owned firm that is probably most often associated with building-site huts. Could they build a temporary school, on a former military site at Scrubs Lane a mile from the disaster zone, in time for the autumn term? The answer was that they could, so long as less pressing clients didn’t mind their orders being jogged down the list. In just nine weeks, 210 Portakabin modules were fitted out elsewhere, then stacked and connected on-site to create a complete replica of KAA’s classrooms and special facilities, including its autism suite, technology workshops and dance studio.
After the pupils moved in on 18 September, the school’s principal David Ben- son declared: ‘It looks and feels like their school… it’s the fastest school ever built.’
And it has presented sixth-formers studying entrepreneurship with a remarkable case study of what business can deliver.
This is an extract from Martin Vander Weyer’s ‘Any Other Business’, which appears in this week’s Spectator