EDUCATION Secretary Michael Gove has insisted he did not mislead the House of Commons in two answers over the police investigation into alleged fraud at the Kings Science Academy and the separate issue of the land deal.
He rejected the claims made by Bradford West MP George Galloway who had asked him to withdraw the statements about the troubled free school in the city.
Mr Gove had told MPs that the police investigation into alleged fraud at the school came as a direct result of DfE actions.
On the separate issue of the land he had said that Alan Lewis, a vice chairman of the Conservative Party, was receiving less for the site through rent from the free school than he was getting beforehand. Mr Lewis, who is also the school’s executive patron, is the chairman of the Hartley Group, which is set to receive around £295,000 a year over a 20-year lease.
Mr Galloway has objected to both Mr Gove’s earlier statements and accused him of misleading the House.
In a letter responding to the Respect MP, Mr Gove said: “I did not mislead the House on January 6.”
“For the avoidance of doubt, Kings Science Academy’s rent equates to £2.27 per sq ft. This compares to rates paid by previous tenants of £2.77 and £2.88 per sq ft.”
Mr Gove also told Mr Galloway it was the actions of his officials that “ultimately” led to the police investigation which is ongoing.
The DfE reported concerns over alleged fabricating of invoices at the school with a phone call to fraud authorities in April.
However, the case was not passed to the police for criminal investigation until October – after the matter had been leaked to the media – because Action Fraud, a call centre for financial crime, wrongly recorded it as an information report.
However, the Yorkshire Post has revealed that the DfE was told the matter was only being dealt with as information on September 5 and did nothing to rectify this until after the leak.
Mr Galloway has written back to Mr Gove saying: “You were informed that the police inquiry would not proceed through lack of information in September. You and your department were content to accept this.”
He noted that in a Parliamentary answer Mr Gove said the police investigation at the free school came as a direct result of DfE actions but in the letter to Mr Galloway the Education Secretary said it was the DfE’s actions which ultimately led to the probe.
Mr Galloway said: “You now say that the police inquiry was “ultimately” the result of the DfE contacting Action Fraud. Of course this is true in that if, extraordinarily, your department had not reported the fraud, the inquiry would not have happened. But “ultimately” is not “directly”On the land deal he has called for Mr Gove to prove Mr Lewis was previously earning more from the free school site overall than he is now getting.
In his letter to Mr Gove Mr Galloway wrote: “It is blatantly obvious that £2.27 is less than £2.77 and £2.88 but an average GCSE maths candidate would surely know the difference in income between £2.27 per square foot and £2.77/£2.88 per square foot depends on the number of square feet being let at those prices.” He added: “Your assertion on January 6 was that Mr Lewis had taken a reduction in income on the site leased to King’s Science Academy... This claim cannot be sustained by the figures provided by your department and by Mr Lewis in response to my email to him. It can only be established by the release of the figures for the gross income on the site before its lease to King Science Academy and the like for like comparison with the lease agreement with Kings Science Academy which is in the public domain.”