Gove under pressure over use of private emails

Michael Gove The Education Secretary has been urged to clarify the position of his department

A watchdog has raised concerns about Michael Gove and his closest advisers amid claims they conducted government business using private emails.

The Information Commissioner has contacted the Department for Education (DfE) about the way it has handled freedom of information requests.

The Financial Times claims information was being kept away from the DfE's own civil servants and the public.

Mr Gove's aides insist the emails did not breach any rules.

The newspaper quotes an email from one of Mr Gove's advisers - Dominic Cummings - to his colleagues saying he will not answer emails to his official department account, but only those sent to a gmail account.

'Urgent statement'

He urges the recipients to do likewise.

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.

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

But a source close to Mr Gove said: "The email quoted by the FT was sent by Mr Cummings to Conservative Party advisers.

"The email did not refer to Department for Education official business but to Conservative Party business only.

"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's email."

A DfE spokesman said: "The permanent secretary believes that the Secretary of State and Special Advisers act within the law."

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 an investigation.

Shadow education secretary Andy Burnham said: "Mr Gove must make an urgent statement to clarify whether, at all times, his department has followed the letter of the law."

Mr Burnham later suggested on Twitter he would put the allegations to the Cabinet Secretary.

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