THE Government is facing fresh demands to publish all its records of the phone calls officials made to fraud authorities about a scandal-hit Bradford free school which led to a six-month delay in a police investigation.
MPs have repeated calls for all information about the Kings Science Academy case to be made public after Ministers revealed the Department for Education (DfE) would no longer report suspected fraud in schools over the phone and would now keep records of the information provided.
Shadow Education Minister Kevin Brennan said last night: “If the Department for Education now recognise the importance of having a record of what is said when reporting these important matters why won’t they request and publish this information from the Home Office who have a recording of the call made about the Kings Science Academy?” Both he and Bradford MP George Galloway accused the Government of being reluctant to tell the public how this matter was first reported.
The demands follows controversy over the Government’s failure to ensure allegations of fraud at the flagship free school were subject to a criminal investigation until October – despite attempting to raise concerns in April. A DfE investigation last year revealed that the school had submitted fabricated invoices in 2011 to claim thousands of pounds of public money.
The DfE phoned Action Fraud – a national fraud reporting centre – on April 25 to report this but police did not launch an investigation until October – after the DfE’s investigation report had been leaked to the media.
The DfE and Home Office said the delay was because of a mistake by Action Fraud which led to the matter being passed on to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau as being an information report rather than a crime report. Action Fraud is said to have apologised to the DfE for the mistake on November 1.
The DfE has insisted that it passed on all critical information in the phone call it made to Action Fraud. Earlier this week top DfE official Peter Lauener told the Public Accounts Committee that Action Fraud had been given “plenty of evidence” in the call. The chief executive of the Education Funding Agency also said that Action Fraud made clear in its apology to the DfE that the department had provided the correct information. However the department has also said previously that it has no written record of the call and does not intend to ask the Home Office for a recording of it.
Mr Brennan said: “First of all it is staggering that something so serious was not reported in writing by and that no note was taken of what was said on the phone. It is also extremely strange that the DfE do plan to keep records in future but will not ask the Home Office if it has any record of what was said in this call about Kings. It feels as though the DfE do not want to reveal the casual manner in which they first reported this.”
Mr Galloway, the Respect MP for Bradford West, has previously written to Education Secretary Michael Gove urging him to ask the Home Office for a recording of the call and records relating to it.
He said: “This whole matter can only be cleared up by records being published and by Michael Gove coming to the House and answering questions. The refusal to ask for records from the Home Office shows this is a cover up.”
A DfE spokeswoman insisted: “The Department followed all correct procedures in reporting this incident. Officials supplied Action Fraud with all the critical information on its findings of potential fraud in April. All of the actions of the department were confirmed as correct by the police at the time. This was Action Fraud’s error and they have apologised for it.”