Friday, January 27, 2012

There Goves the neighbourhood

Mike Whitby and Michael Gove, credit:

Michael Gove disapparated in Birmingham today and even visited a school in my home ward, ruining the neighbourhood. He also had a meeting with allegedly-wannabe Mayor Whitby. Mike W apparently said

"Looking particularly at the new tools and freedoms available to us, such as academies, free schools and university technical colleges – Birmingham is saying today that these exciting forms of provision will become an integral part of our approach to school improvement."
I wonder if Mike has talked to his cabinet member for education, Les Lawrence, whose antipathy to academies is well known?
Even odder was Gove's own statement

“I am delighted that Birmingham local authority is embracing the vital reforms that are taking place in our education system"
Again - not sure that you can accuse Cllr Lawrence of embracing these reforms with anything less than a chokehold. Les certainly didn't even get a mention in the accompanying press release, still less a photo. But then Les is not numbered amongst the Govian true believers and has been accused by ConservativeHome of drinking in the last chance saloon for his lack of ideological purity.

Incidentally, Gove appears to have changed his schedule to avoid a demonstration outside the school as he appeared earlier than planned, did his photo-op and then scurried back to London.
He's also in trouble elsewhere, as the Guardian claim that he personally approved funding to the Community Safety Trust, even though he is on their Advisory Board. Now, this is a perfectly sound cause - I don't have a problem with supporting schools with particular security needs - but isn't it also a clear conflict of interest? I will note that publishing that story on Holocaust Memorial Day is a little insensitive - and there's comment here from the Jewish Chronicle. This comes hard on the heels of the stories about his SPADs moving to private webmail to avoid FoIA queries (unsuccessfully, I believe) and Gove funnelling money to the New Schools Network, run by a former advisor to run a scheme worth £500,000 that didn't apparently need to go out to tender.
(Hat tip to @paulmdale)


Labour MP Lisa Nandy has had a letter from the Information Commissioner with regard to the general secrecy that pervades Gove's department. She notes
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.
The Information Commissioner tells her that 
“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.”
Section 50 is routine and relates to the Commissioner being required to make a decision following non-disclosure. Section 77 is more interesting - that relates to somebody taking steps to conceal information that should be disclosed and could mean prosecution. 

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