THE veil of secrecy shrouding Whitehall’s dealings with a scandal-hit free school in Yorkshire will not be lifted after Michael Gove refused to answer further questions while a police investigation continues.
The Education Secretary said yesterday he has been asked by West Yorkshire Police not to reveal further details of the financial affairs of the Kings Science Academy in Bradford, nor of his department’s dealings with those running the school, while officers investigate allegations of serious fraud.
Bradford MP David Ward had tabled a series of Parliamentary questions to Mr Gove about the school’s links with Alan Lewis, a local businessman and vice-chair of the Conservative Party. The MP made an official complaint to the Commons Procedure Committee last month about the Education Secretary’s refusal to respond.
But in a written statement yesterday, Mr Gove made clear he is unable to give detailed answers to the questions due to the ongoing police inquiry into Kings.
“Members of Parliament have tabled questions seeking information relating to the financial management of Kings Science Academy in Bradford, including requests for details of discussions involving the Department for Education (DfE) and those involved in the management of the school,” Mr Gove said. “The ongoing police investigation means that it would not be appropriate to release details at this time.
“West Yorkshire Police have told the DfE that, due to the ongoing investigation, the Government must not release information into the public domain which is relevant to the case.”
Mr Ward said he fully accepted the decision and suggested his questions must therefore have been “close to uncovering important information”.
“I respect the request made by West Yorkshire Police, as the last thing that I would want to do is prejudice any investigation and successful prosecution that uncovers the truth about who was responsible for financial mismanagement at the school,” the MP said last night.
“I have confidence in the ability of the West Yorkshire Police, and trust that they are able to bring justice where the Department for Education has utterly failed.”
Meanwhile the row between Mr Gove and his Liberal Democrat colleague David Laws in the education department over the future of the schools watchdog has deepened, with the Lib Dem Minister speaking out over the decision not to reappoint Ofsted’s chairwoman.
Relations between the two men have been strained by Mr Gove’s decision not to retain Labour peer Baroness Morgan as the head of Ofsted, raising the possibility of a Tory supporter taking the job.
In a fresh rift Mr Laws has now called for Ofsted to be given a new role investigating chains running academy schools – a move which has previously been resisted by the Department for Education.
Mr Laws criticised Mr Gove’s decision not to retain Baroness Morgan, amid rumours that Tory donor Theodore Agnew was being lined up for the post.
“I don’t think it is one of the best decisions that Michael Gove has ever made,” Mr Laws said.
“I personally think that Sally Morgan has done a fantastic job as chair of Ofsted. I would rather she had remained and had her term renewed.”
It is understood Mr Laws intends to stop Mr Gove imposing Mr Agnew as Lady Morgan’s successor.
But a DfE source said Mr Laws was “playing political games” and the final decision on Lady Morgan’s replacement would rest with Mr Gove.
The Education Secretary has insisted the appointment would be made on merit and that it would be “quite wrong” to rule out a suitable candidate simply because he was a Conservative.