Michael Gove Claimed Use Of Private Emails By Official Was 'Isolated Incident' Despite Mounting Evidence To The Contrary
Michael Gove has claimed that evidence of a Department for Education official using his private email account for official business was an "isolated" incident, despite claims in the Financial Times that the Secretary of State frequently did exactly the same thing.
On the 31 August the Huffington Post UK revealed that an official working at the DfE used his Hotmail account to apparently put pressure on a primary school in England to convert to academy status.
The official's emails were sent from his Blackberry, and were a clear breach of the rules issued to officials in the department, which state:
Never use non-DFE e-mail services (such as your own personal internet e-mail account on Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo Mail, AOL, MobileMe, etc.) to carry out departmental business.
Gove subsequently wrote an apology to the Labour MP who complained about the incident. In his letter dated 14 September, Gove wrote:
"The guidance to staff in the Department for Education is very clear: they must never use personal email accounts on official business.
"As soon as the department was alerted by a press report to a single use of a Hotmail account in communication with a school about Academy options, the breach of the guidance was investigated."
Gove added that the email was the work of a "contractor" who no longer works for the department, adding that if they had still been employed, they would have been fired for breaking the rules.
He said: "I regret this isolated incident especially because I know that staff in the Department for Education work to the highest standards in supporting schools to become academies"
But the education secretary's claim that it was a one-off appear to be contradicted by a report in the Financial Times which suggests he often used personal email accounts, including his wife's, to communicate.
The FT has claimed to have seen emails sent by the education secretary to his advisers in which he discussed issues that appeared to be government business including schools literacy programmes.
In one email quoted by the paper, Gove asks: “Where are we on phonics/age 6 reading test implementation plans?”
While it is not against the law to use private email accounts to discuss official business, it is illegal to do so in order to deliberately avoid Freedom of Information requests and the Information Commissioner is investigating the allegations.
The department has insisted that the private email exchanges were concerned with Conservative Party business rather than government business.
This is a developing story...