Wednesday, 21 September 2011


Michael Gove, the English Education Cabinet Secretary, who has complained bitterly about the standard of education in that country, employs some right duffers as advisers.

The storm over Gove and advisers using private emails instead of official ones to conduct business, so that their shenanigans can be kept out of the public eye, and that FoI requests won't be able to trace them, has thrown up an email that was sent by one of the House Elf's advisers, Dominic Cummings.

He is telling colleagues at the Education Dept, that from that time on he will not answer any further emails to his official DfE account... He continues, and I quote.... "I will only answer things that come from gmail accounts from people who I know who they are...."

Lovely, don't you think?

Now maybe I'm just naive, but I'd have thought that an Education Minister who complained that kids aren't being educated and don't read enough Dryden, Milton and Shakespeare, (and whom you would surmise from that was a pretty educated bloke himself), might want to employ advisers that can string a few words together without sounding idiotic.

Just a thought.

Oh, and it's it cool that the wee man's got himself in yet another pile of whatsit.

Amateurs, the lot of them.


  1. Tris,

    See me after class. Is the "whom" you referred to Shakespeare? If not, this is an example of shoddy grammar which I will not tolerate.

    John yore teecher xx

  2. Erm, no Mr Brownlie, Sir... there's an 'and' in front of it, so it refers to the Education Secretary, and he's 'whom', as opposed to 'who', because the subject of this part of the sentence is "you"...Sir. Well, not you personally, Sir, but "you" as in "one", if you knows whit I means, Sir.

    Anyway, my mum says that if you tell me off again she's going to be talking the matter up with you in private, whatever that may mean.

  3. "I will only answer things that come from gmail accounts from people who I know who they are...."

    LOL. I suspect he doesn't know how easily these e mail accounts are hacked or phished etc.
    His security and IT staff must be pulling their hair out.

  4. Or laughing their butts off, Monty

  5. The Freedom of Information act as it applies in England says:

    1 General right of access to information held by public authorities.
    (1) Any person making a request for information to a public authority is entitled-
    (a) to be informed in writing by the public authority whether it holds information of the description specified in the request, and
    (b) if that is the case, to have that information communicated to him.

    Now it doesn't say that any information has to held in an official e-mail account, just that it is held by the public authority.

    The interesting bit is Section 77 of that act.
    Has Michael Gove used private email to try and conceal information which should be in the public domain and not revealed its whereabouts when an FOI request has come in?

    In which case he falls foul of Section 77 and has committed an offense.

    77 Offence of altering etc. records with intent to prevent disclosure.
    (1) Where-
    (a) a request for information has been made to a public authority, and
    (b) under section 1 of this Act or section 7 of the Data Protection Act 1998, the applicant would have been entitled (subject to payment of any fee) to communication of any information in accordance with that section, any person to whom this subsection applies is guilty of an offence if he alters, defaces, blocks, erases, destroys or conceals any record held by the public authority, with the intention of preventing the disclosure by that authority of all, or any part, of the information to the communication of which the applicant would have been entitled.
    (2) Subsection (1) applies to the public authority and to any person who is employed by, is an officer of, or is subject to the direction of, the public authority.
    (3) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale.

  6. As far as I could make out, it was discovered when a Financial Times journo asked for some information (I think it was a bout a school that had been awarded £50,000) and the officials were unable to produce it, not having access to the emails.

    So yes, it looks as if there possibly has been a spot of law breaking going on, Doug.

  7. Here you go Doug: (Guardian: today)

    The information commissioner's office has challenged a claim by the Department for Education that private email accounts are not subject to freedom of information legislation.

    The claim was made in response to allegations that the education secretary, Michael Gove, and his closest advisers conducted government business on private emails.

    The Financial Times reported that these emails included issues such as a school literacy programme, which would be covered by FOI law.

    In its rebuttal of the allegations, the Department for Education has claimed that private emails "do not fall within the FOI Act" and are not searchable by civil servants.

    However, in a statement the information commissioner's office said: "It is certainly possible that some information in private emails could fall within the scope of the Freedom of Information Act if it concerns government business. This will be dependent on the specific circumstances."

    The information commissioner's office is making inquiries after an FT journalist made FOI requests seeking to retrieve details of emails he had seen through other channels. According to the paper, the department said in each case it did not hold the information.

    The email traffic includes questions about government business such as "where are we on reducing bureaucracy?", the FT reports.

    In one email, Gove sums up what he expects from a judicial review of his decision to cancel the Building Schools for the Future programme with one word: "AAAAAARGGGGGHHHH!!!!!!".

    The decision to cancel Labour's school building programme last summer generated the worst crisis of Gove's time in office. In February, a high court judge ruled he had acted unlawfully.

    Sandwell, one of the councils affected by the scrapping of BSF, has instructed solicitors to write to the Department for Education, asking whether Gove and his aides used personal email accounts in the decision-making process.

    The DfE has also responded to the disclosure that Dominic Cummings, Gove's chief political adviser, wrote to colleagues shortly after he was appointed stating he "will not answer any further emails to my official DfE account".

    The email continued: "i will only answer things that come from gmail accounts from people who i know who they are. i suggest that you do the same in general but thats obv up to you guys – i can explain in person the reason for this …"[sic]

    The department said the email concerned party political activity, not government business.

    In its statement, the DfE said: "[The FT] has repeatedly asked that civil servants search private email accounts. However, the Cabinet Office is clear that private email accounts do not fall within the FOI Act and are not searchable by civil servants. Neither the secretary of state nor special advisers have been asked to disclose emails sent from private accounts."

    The Guardian revealed yesterday that inquiries by civil servants about the Tories' free schools programme were blocked by Cummings.

    The inquiries were an attempt to answer parliamentary questions about free schools tabled by the Labour MP Caroline Flint.

    Flint has tweeted: "So Gove's adviser blocked answers to my freeschool PQs. Time for a public apology Mr Gove?"

  8. PS: I didn't know, Doug, that the FoI Act was different in England from here.

  9. This is from the FT. It seems Michael may have been a very naughty boy. © Monty Python.

    It has also emerged that Andrew Partridge, the DfE's chief FoI official, advised his own permanent secretary earlier this year that the FoI Act applied to emails sent and received through private email accounts if they were used for government business.

    On March 29 2011, Mr Partridge approvingly forwarded to Sir David, the permanent secretary, an excerpt of the FT's legal advice which was concerned with the scope of the Act. The advice stated that "using a personal email account to conduct government business does not render the emails ‘personal information' for the purposes of FoIA".

    Mr Partridge passed this on to the permanent secretary noting that the FT was "taking sound legal advice" which "accords with our view in the IR [Information Rights] team". On May 17 2011, he also told the permanent secretary that the act was not confined to the contents of departmental accounts if "information held in personal accounts may relate to the business of the department".

    John Macdonald QC, co-author of the book The Law of Freedom of Information , said that the application of the act to an email sent by Mr Gove would be unaffected by "whether the information is communicated by hand, or by his official email account, or by a private email account in his wife's name".

  10. I don't know how different the Scottish and English versions are but they are two separate acts.

  11. Thanks for that FT piece, Doug, It seems that there can be very little doubt that the elf-boy has been caught bang to rights.

    I suppose, however, that nothing will happen. Wee Govey is part of Dave's inner circle and as such pretty untouchable.

    OK. Thanks too for that info about the FoI acts. I imagine that like many of these UK wide things it is pretty much the same north and south of the border, but there may be different wording here and there to comply with the differences in teh existing law in the two countries, or the standard forms of expression used in the different legal systems.

  12. The word is that they will say that it wasn't to circumvent FoI, but to stop leaks... Whatever.