The Guardian today published a leaked email in which a close aide to Michael Gove fiercely rebukes attempts by a civil servant to obtain transparency from a charity paid £1,000,000 of taxpayers’ money to administrate Gove’s “new schools” programme.

News of smoke and mirrors at the Department for Education will come as no shock to loyal Scrapbook readers, however, who read the story of secrecy around the New Schools Network (NSN), run by yet another Gove adviser, last October.

  • The government refused to disclose full details of the business case submitted by NSN. Stonewalling by DfE led to an intervention by the Information Commissioner, who ordered them to reply. A heavily redacted FOI response was finally received after a 70-day delay.
  • The DfE have no idea who NSN’s other donors are – and crucially – whether those donors would stand to benefit financially from the introduction of free schools.
  • Education ministers have dodged further questions around procurement, with the department claiming “no other tenders were sought from other organisations [because] NSN has been active in this area for some time”. In this case “some time” means “since the charity was started less than a year ago”.

The arrogance with which Dominic Cummings responds to entreaties from within the department is nevertheless breathtaking:

“NSN is not giving out to you, the media or anybody else any figure on ‘expressions of interest’ for PQs, FOIs or anything else. Further, NSN has not, is not, and will never answer a single FOI request made to us concerning anything at all.”

Contrast this with the spin from Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude on “the degree of honesty we have with the public”:

“The most startling difference between this administration and the last is the degree of honesty we have with the public … We have put government transparency at the heart of our approach … When it comes to transparency and openness, we want nothing less than radical culture change for the public sector.”

On transparency, the gulf between rhetoric and reality has become an embarrassment.

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