What was hiding behind the boat: Information commissioner is investigating Gove

Lisa Nandy writes about Michael Gove and his dodging the question over whether he's working with the freedom of information act


By Lisa Nandy MP (Labour, Wigan)

Last year the Financial Times reported that advisers at the Department for Education were conducting official DfE business through private email accounts to avoid the freedom of information act.

In response to a number of complaints, the Information Commissioner visited the department and after concluding that it wasn’t clear that the act had been properly understood or followed by staff, issued guidance.

At yesterday’s education questions, Kevin Brennan asked Michael Gove to confirm that he and his advisors had never deleted emails, from private addresses or otherwise, to avoid scrutiny. Visibly rattled, Gove refused to answer the question and simply asserted that he and his department had operated in accordance with Cabinet Office policy.

A letter I received from the information commissioner today may explain why.

The letter says:

“In addition to the guidance and good practice report published before Christmas, I can confirm that my office also has a number of active investigations in to these issues.

“I plan to conclude a number of complaints under Section 50 of the FOI act over the next few months – these will cover whether specific information requested is held for purposes of the act. I am also still considering allegations about whether individuals at the department breached section 77 of the act.”

Since taking office Gove has proven evasive on a succession of key questions.

He refuses to reveal the cost of his free schools programme.

He wouldn’t answer my parliamentary questions about the grant he awarded, without tender, to the New Schools Network until he was ordered to by the House of Commons’ procedure committee.

He had to be ordered to answer a freedom of information request about the same subject by the Information Commissioner.

He refuses to release details of consultation by academies, and won’t publish the minutes of discussions at the DfE board (the department releases only basic headings).

It makes you wonder what it is that Gove has to hide. Perhaps when the Information Commissioner concludes his complaints, we might discover the answer.

See also:

• Michael Gove calls for £60m distraction – Alex Hern, January 16th 2012

• The best preventative medicine in the world can’t undo the damage of Osborne’s austerity – Dr Tristan Learoyd, November 2nd 2011

• Clinton: UK’s austerity budget could mean deficit will increase – Will Straw, July 7th 2011

• Monarchy “perpetuates inequality” says Plaid AM – Ed Jacobs, June 8th 2011

• Weak EU growth reveals the price of austerity – Ben Fox, February 15th 2011

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