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DfE’s culture of secrecy exposed

The Information Commissioner is investigating allegations that education secretary Michael Gove’s key advisors used private emails in a bid to keep the affairs of the department secret.

In an email to staff, Gove’s special advisor Dominic Cummings said he would no longer answer emails to or from a Department for Education email address.

He added: “i will only answer things that come from gmail accounts from people who i know who they are. i suggest that you do the same in general but thats obv up to you guys – i can explain in person the reason for this …”

His reason for doing this is, allegedly, that gmail accounts of government officials are not covered by the Freedom of Information Act.

The Commissioner is currently deciding whether Cummings has actually acted illegally or simply not in “the spirit of the act.” The Commissioner was alerted after the Financial Times passed evidence to the office.

A political storm now appears to breaking after it emerged that Cummings also blocked civil servants from responding to parliamentary requests relating to the controversial New Schools Network (NSN). Labour MP Caroline Flint had enquired about the number of expressions of interest the NSN had received in her constituency.

In leaked emails shown to the Guardian, Cummings told a civil servant: “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.”

Civil servants feared they would be obstructing parliamentary process if the did not respond. The NSN, one of Gove’s key projects, has been attacked over the unorthodox way it has conducted its business. Last year Cummings successfully lobbied for the DfE to fast-track the funding for NSN.

Shadow education secretary Andy Burnham told the Guardian: “It would seem that Dominic Cummings holds an arrogant disregard for government processes and accountability to parliament.”

Political pressure is now on Gove, David Cameron and the conservative government who, when elected, promised to be “the most open and accountable government in the world.”

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