A contractor run by a former adviser to Michael Gove has been communicating with special advisers in Whitehall using their private emails, Political Scrapbook can reveal. The exchanges with the New Schools Network (NSN) — run by former Gove Adviser Rachel Wolf (above) and awarded more than £1.5m in contracts by her former boss — threaten to open up a new front in the battle over government business conducted using personal email accounts.
After revelations in the Financial Times that Michael Gove was using his wife’s “Mrs Blurt” email account and that his office had systematically destroyed official correspondence, the Department for Education fought a bitter battle with the Information Commissioner to avoid releasing such messages under freedom of information.
But the department’s excuse for nondisclosure — that the emails were “political” and not “governmental” — may not be welcomed by the NSN, who were gifted an initial contract to administer the government’s Free School programme without the usual tendering process:
“In answer to the Commissioner’s query as to whether the email would fall within the scope of the request, the DfE said that in its view the email was not held for the purposes of the Act. This is because, it said, the email was political rather than governmental.”
While also being a government contractor, the NSN is a registered charity — and is therefore banned from the kind of political communication cited by “Mrs Blurt” et al in their defence:
“The guiding principle of charity law in terms of campaigning, political activity and elections is that charities should be, and be seen to be, independent from party politics.”
Scrapbook wonders what excuse they will come up with this time — and which other Whitehall contractors have a direct line to the secretary of state’s private office via personal email addresses.
Michael Gove’s office have turned “bending the rules” into an art form.