Thank you for your request for information, which was received on 21 September 2011.
Your request is as follows:
‘1/ To list: All Special Advisors in the department who have come from organisations that could benefit financially from, or which could be expected to have some financial interest in, the Free Schools programme.
2/ To list all meetings the Minister or senior departmental officials have had with such organisations.
3/ To provide details of the above meetings.
4/ To state the Department’s attitude to FOI requests asking about such organisations.
5/ To say how many FOI requests have been received about NSN and how many have been refused’.
I have dealt with your request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. I recognise that we should have replied to your request within 20 working days and I apologise that we have not met this deadline.
Following a search of the Department’s paper and electronic records, I am responding by taking each question in turn:
Q1: To list: All Special Advisors in the department who have come from organisations that could benefit financially from, or which could be expected to have some financial interest in, the Free Schools programme.
Answer: The Department for Education has two Special Advisers: Henry de Zoete and Dominic Cummings.
The Department does not hold any information about whether Henry de Zoete came from an organisation that could benefit financially from the Free Schools programme. Dominic Cummings attended some meetings, as part of the NSN representative group, prior to his employment as a Special Adviser. The Department does not hold any details relating to arrangements between Mr Cummings and NSN.
Dominic Cummingswas issued with a parliamentary pass by the education secretary Michael Gove seven months before he became Gove’s special adviser and while he was working for the charity New Schools Network.
Cummings breached parliamentary rules by failing to register his employment at NSN while holding a parliamentary pass.
From August to December 2010 Dominic Cummings appears on the Register of Interests of Members’ Secretaries and Research Assistants, sponsored by education secretary Michael Gove. His place on the register means Cummings held a parliamentary pass.
The parliamentary register, which was updated in August, October, November and December 2010, requires that all holders of photo-identity passes register ‘any occupation or employment for which they receive over £329 from the same source in the course of a calendar year, if that occupation or employment is in any way advantaged by the privileged access to Parliament afforded by their pass.’
At no point did Cummings register his paid work at NSN.
NSN and the Conservative Party
While registered as an ‘independent charity’, the New Schools Network team has several links to the Conservative Party and to Education Secretary Michael Gove.
NSN Director Rachel Wolf worked previously as Michael Gove’s special adviser.
Chief Operating Officer Natalie Evans was Deputy Director of Policy Exchange. Gove was founder and chairman of the right wing think-tank.
Diana Berry, Director of Development at the charity worked as Head of Fundraising for Conservative Campaign Head Quarters.
Mike Crowhurst, NSN’s Publications Manager worked for Conservative MP Mike Penning.
Trustee Theodore Agnew has long been a donor to the Conservative Party and has donated £144,000 to the Tories since 2007.
Trustee Amanda Spielman was a member of the Sykes review group commissioned by Michael Gove to review the school assessment system.
Dominic Cummings, very happy to get DfE to fast track money to NSN using procedures usually reserved for anti terrorism, not so keen on accountability
NSN is not giving out to you, the media or anybody else any figure on ‘expressions of interest’ for PQs, FOIs or anything else. Further, NSN has not, is not, and will never answer a single FOI request made to us concerning anything at all.
The are a few things that DfE and NSN don’t talk about when mentioning Charter Schools:
Charter schools don’t receive capital funding from the government to construct their own buildings
As in the UK there is money available for the ideologically driven Charter Schools movement even as provision of educational services for the poorest are being cut:
Two beloved Brooklyn day care centers are closing Friday, slated to get replaced by a controversial charter school, the Daily News has learned.
Three other centers – one in Queens and two in Brooklyn – are also shutting down because of city budget cuts, affecting about 250 kids citywide.
As with most of the policies of this government the evidence upon which policy is based is, at best, mixed, more usually it is non-existent.
[T]here is a fairly well-developed body of evidence showing that charter and regular public schools vary widely in their impacts on achievement growth. This research finds that, on the whole, there is usually not much of a difference between them, and when there are differences, they tend to be very modest. In other words, there is nothing about ‘charterness’ that leads to strong results
The Department does not hold any information about whether Henry de Zoete came from an organisation that could benefit financially from the Free Schools programme
Let me help the Minister and his staff, who must be so terribly overworked that they can only answer an FOI request on the last day before they can be required by the Information Commissioner to provide an answer.
From 2003, de Zoete was health and transport research officer for right-wing think-tank Reform. Following this, he worked as a senior account manager for Portland PR, leaving in early 2010 to become education press officer for the Conservatives
Immediately before working for Mr Gove he worked for Portland PR
Surprise NSN is a client of Portland PR.
Not so much the stench of corruption but the stink of mutual self-enrichment
Q2 & Q3:To list all meetings the Minister or senior departmental officials have had with such organisations. 3/ To provide details of the above meetings.
Answer: Under Section 21 of the Act, the Department is not required to provide information in response to a request if it is already reasonably accessible to you.
As part of the Government’s transparency agenda, this Department publishes quarterly information on all ministerial meetings with external organisations (this includes meetings with NSN). The information for May 2010 – September 2011 can be found on the Department’s website via the following link:
The information detailing the Permanent Secretary’s meetings with external organisations from November 2010 – September 2011 can also be viewed via the following link:
The information for October – December 2011 will be published in due course with subsequent publications on a rolling quarterly basis. This information is therefore exempt under Section 22 of the Act which covers information intended for future publication.
The exemption in Section 22 is a qualified exemption and we are therefore required to consider the public interest balance. The arguments for and against release have been assessed and it is our view that the balance of public interest falls in favour of the exemption. The public interest in permitting the Department to publish information in a manner and at a time of their own choosing is important. It is part of the effective conduct of public affairs that the general publication of information is a conveniently planned and managed activity within the reasonable control of the public authority.
We do not hold a central list for meetings between such organisations and other senior departmental officials and estimate that the cost of complying with this part of your request would exceed the cost threshold applicable to Central Government. This is £600 and represents the estimated cost of one person spending 3½ working days locating, retrieving and extracting the information. Under Section 12 of the Freedom of Information Act the Department is not obliged to comply with this part of the request.
They obviously don’t have diaries it would seem – must be difficult running a department when nobody knows who is in the building, or even the country. It is true that the government publish lists of meetings between elected officials and external bodies but, all too predictably, such information is not provided for senior officials and advisers.
Given that the DfE refuse to provide official details of the activities of its Spads I’ll take this opportunity to print some highlight from the last year.
Dominic Cummings is obviously exceptional – teachers are in the middle of a multi-year pay freeze but:
AN EDUCATION spin doctor has been given an £11,000 pay rise.
Michael Gove rewarded key aide Dominic Cummings after telling teachers their pensions were being cut and their wages frozen.
Cummings now earns a taxpayer-funded £69,266 a year, up from £58,200 just six months ago.
Cummings is also behind this infamous communication:
From: Dominic Cummings [mailto:█.███@googlemail.com]
Sent: 24 February 2011 10:57
To: Henry De Zoete
Cc: Edmonds, Tom; Elena Narozanski-Efthimiopoulou; Woodhouse, Nicola; Davis, Conyers; Mascall,
Subject: Re: Filming Michael
a. fletcher will help provide the hi-def film – please note he has had appalling experiences with cchq in the past and
he will only help with anything as personal favour to MG so his patience shd not be tested or he will just disappear on
you. i suggest that ben and ben only deals with him.
b. i will not answer any further emails to my official DfE account or from conservatives.com – 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…
i will be at spring conf so anyone who is going to deal with our team we cd meet then so we know who each other is…
my mobile is 07█ █ █
Let’s have a look at the highlight of de Zoete’s contribution to Combover’s ‘most transparent government in history’ [tm]
Michael Gove Under Further Fire As Henry De Zoete Accused Of Deleting Government Emails [have i mentioned Gove was an employee of that ‘criminal organisation’ News International? – obviously learned his job well]
Department for Education staff repeatedly destroyed official government correspondence, it has been reported.
According to the Financial Times (FT)around 130 emails sent to and from the account of special adviser Henry de Zoete were deleted.
The alleged practice was uncovered by journalistic ethics charity the Media Standards Trust.
Michael Moore, director of the organisation, sought details of emails sent from Education Secretary Michael Gove’s special advisers and a number of named journalists. The charity claimed that the Department for Education’s response stated that the emails did not exist.
Q4: To state the Department’s attitude to FOI requests asking about such organisations
Answer: All FOI requests about such organisations are considered in the same way as any other FOI requests.
ie with contempt that anyone would actually ask for accountability
Q5: To say how many FOI requests have been received about NSN and how many have been refused’.
Answer: Twenty FOI requests have been received about NSN. Of these, in four cases all of the information requested was released. In eight cases some information was released, but some was refused under exemptions. In five cases no information was released because in each case the cost of complying with the request would have exceeded the £600 limit prescribed in the relevant regulations. In one case the information was not held. Two requests are in the process of being answered.
I should have asked how many had been answered within the legal time scale but the sheer arrogance of the department leads me to believe that i would be very old indeed before the lying, corrupt, lazy, incompetent, ideologically-driven thieves and fraudsters who infest the department would come up with an answer, if ever.