Andy Burnham: Gus O'Donnell Must Investigate Fast-Track Free Schools Funding
Labour's shadow education secretary Andy Burnham has written publicly to the cabinet secretary to investigate leaked emails, which show free school funding was fast-tracked.
The NSN had bid for £500,000, which they received shortly after the emails were sent. The network is an independent charity responsible for promoting secretary of state Michael Gove's controversial free schools. The story was broken by the Guardian on Tuesday, prompting Burnham to call for clarity on the issue.
In a letter to Sir Gus O'Donnell, Andy Burnham refers to the issue as one of "great concern" and asks for urgent action to be taken. The emails sent included one from Dominic Cummings that said: "MG telling the civil servants to find a way to give NSN cash without delay”.
Cummings previously worked for the NSN before becoming a special adviser to Gove. Rachel Wolf, founder of the NSN, was Gove's political adviser before the general election. In his letter, Burnham draws attention to the "personal and political links" between the education charity and the secretary of state, alluding to current public opinion of the free schools initiative: "You will be aware that there is a perceived lack of transparency regarding the free schools programme."
At the time of the cash grant, Burnham wrote to Sir David Bell - the permanent secretary at the department for education - to ascertain whether the due process had been adhered to. Bell replied: "the appropriate steps were followed by officials".
In his most recent letter, Burnham refers to the Ministerial Code, which states: “Ministers must ensure that no conflict arises, or appears to arise, between their public duties and their private interests”.
He then asks O'Donnell:
- What were the “appropriate steps” followed by officials in the award of the grant and were they in your view adequate in this situation?
- - In your view, was it justified to award a contract without open competition in this situation?
- - Do the actions of civil servants, special advisers or ministers in relation to the award of this grant in any way contravene the letter or the spirit of the Civil Service Code, the Code of Conduct for Special Advisers or the Ministerial Code?
Burnham highlights the government's previous refusal to release the figures of individual school budgets and raises concerns over the personnel appointments made by Gove, Cummings in particular.
He adds: "Given the Secretary of State's close links to the individuals who benefited from this award, shouldn't it have been all the more important that an open tender process was followed to avoid any perception of favouritism or conflict of interest? I am also making a Freedom of Information request to the Department for Education for all documents relating to the grant awarded to the New Schools Network."