Michael Gove apology over school building list errors

Education Secretary Michael Gove made an apology to the Commons

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The education secretary has said he will apologise in person to schools led to believe they could go ahead with building projects which were axed.

They include nine schools in Sandwell, West Midlands, and one in Doncaster, South Yorkshire.

Michael Gove admitted 25 errors in data about scrapping a multi-billion pound scheme in England.

Labour MPs said this was "intolerable", and called Mr Gove a "miserable pipsqueak".

Speaker John Bercow asked Labour MP Tom Watson to apologise in the Commons

The latter comment was shouted across the Commons chamber on Wednesday by Labour's Tom Watson, whose West Bromwich East constituency includes Sandwell.

'Regrettable error'

In stormy scenes, Speaker John Bercow ordered the MP to withdraw the remark.

Mr Gove said he understood "passion" about the issue as Mr Bercow tried to calm MPs.

He also said he would visit Sandwell to speak to the schools affected.

Analysis

For Michael Gove the row over school buildings has the potential to develop into a major political horror story.

Not only has he had to make one abject apology to MPs - but he's likely to be pressed to make a further apology - because his latest list of schools affected apparently still contains inaccuracies.

There is also the possibility of legal action by companies and local authorities affected and demands for either compensation or a judicial review of his decisions.

But most worryingly for Mr Gove trouble is brewing on the Tory backbenches - with one Conservative MP already threatening to descend on Downing Street with pupils and parents from schools affected in his constituency.

And this is why this row matters, not just for Mr Gove but also for the Government, because for the first time it appears the Coalition may have over-reached themselves on their cuts agenda.

Put simply, people might be won round to curbing benefits or public sector pay and pensions - but it's hard to see any section of the electorate who are going to back scrapping new schools. Schools may just be a cut too far.

The Commons chamber was unusually packed for an evening as Mr Gove delivered his apology - for breaching Parliamentary etiquette in the way the list was originally released, and for inaccuracies in it.

The coalition government's decision to axe the Building Schools for the Future programme means 715 schools will see their rebuilding projects cancelled.

A number of schools that thought their building plans had been saved have now been told they are in fact being cut.

Mr Gove told the Speaker: "I'm grateful to you and to the whole House for granting me the opportunity to make this statement, and once again to unreservedly apologise."

He said he had sought to ensure the new list was "as complete as possible and as accurate as possible", adding that he took "full responsibility for that regrettable error".

It came after shadow education minister Vernon Coaker said Mr Gove should apologise to MPs in person - and the Speaker agreed with him.

Mr Coaker said a further seven schools listed as "unaffected" had since been told their plans were "under discussion".

"The chaos and confusion around this statement was frankly astonishing," he said.

Labour has since claimed the revised list still contains inaccuracies.

See full list of schools, and notes on errors

PDF download List of schools affected by cuts[137KB]

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Conservative backbencher Ian Liddell-Grainger - who has three schools in his constituency with building work scrapped - threatened to march on Downing Street.

He said he would, if necessary, protest with headteachers and pupils in tow to try to get the decision reversed.

'Proper process'

Conservative MP Tony Baldry accused Labour MPs of "synthetic anger" on the issue, saying his constituents understood that Labour had "left the cupboard absolutely bare".

Shadow education secretary Ed Balls, meanwhile, questioned whether a "proper process" had been followed.

He said the government could face legal challenges from contractors expecting to build new schools.

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On BBC News on Thursday, he said there had been a "gross mis-handling of the whole episode".

The process had been rushed, he said, and Mr Gove should withdraw the list and apologise to the "hundreds of thousands" of children and parents affected.

Mr Gove has said the financial situation means he has to prioritise funding to try to reduce the £155bn budget deficit. He believes the BSF programme was not value for money and was over bureaucratic.

The errors in the list affected schools in areas including Sandwell, Derby, Northamptonshire, Peterborough, Doncaster, Greenwich, Staffordshire and Bexley.

A corrected version of cancelled projects has been given to the House of Commons library.

This revised list is also available on the Department for Education website.

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