Michael Gove under pressure over use of private emails

Michael Gove The Education Secretary has been urged to make statement on the issue

The government has denied that Michael Gove, and his closest advisers, attempted to hide sensitive information by using private emails to conduct Department for Education business.

The information commissioner is looking into the way the DfE handles freedom of information requests.

A story in the Financial Times claimed information was being kept away from the DfE civil servants and the public.

The DfE is now investigating whether emails were leaked to the press.

The Financial Times quotes an email from one of Education Secretary Mr Gove's special advisers, Dominic Cummings. It says he will not answer emails to his official department account, but only those sent to a gmail account and urges the recipients to do likewise.

'Urgent statement'

The FT claims the DfE has refused to release information exchanged using private accounts following Freedom of Information requests.

It says civil servants were unable to find certain emails when asked to retrieve them under a request.

And the paper points out that section 77 of the act says officials must not conceal or destroy information to prevent its disclosure.

But the Department for Education said the email in question was not in fact to civil servants and did not cover government business.

A statement said: "Mr Cummings' email was not to civil servants and concerned Conservative Party spring conference 2011."

It continued: "The Code of Conduct explicitly says that 'special advisers should not use official resources for party political activity'.

"Mr Cummings was telling Conservative Party officials not to use his departmental account for political business. The FT story gives an entirely misleading impression of Mr Cummings' email."

'Dysfunctional?'

Information Commissioner Christopher Graham wrote to Sir David Bell - the DfE's permanent secretary - after the FT put its allegations to him.

A spokeswoman for Mr Graham said he was making inquiries but had not decided whether to launch a formal investigation.

A statement said: "The information commissioner has written to the permanent secretary at the Department for Education to raise concerns about the department's handling of freedom of information requests. It would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage."

Shadow education secretary Andy Burnham called on Mr Gove to make an urgent statement to clarify whether, at all times, his department had followed the letter of the law.

"These new allegations are serious and paint a picture of a dysfunctional department, suggestive of an arrogant disregard for the established processes of government.

"Allegations are that the secretary of state has created his own private and political network, in parallel to the civil service, to carry out government business via personal emails instead of through open and transparent means."

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