Dodging FOI? There’s an app for that…

Trust it to be a former journalist to find a way to remove himself from the Freedom of Information Act once he became a government minister. The Financial Times has a worrying story today, claiming education secretary Michael Gove had instructed people to contact him via a Googlemail account rather than his official party or Department for Education email account.

Why might he do this? Well, there’s a suspicion it’s to ensure that email discussions he has can’t be subject to FOI. As a private email account, presumably FOI officers at the DfE can’t audit what is being sent and received on that account.

An email seen by the FT seems to be damning:

“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 … ”
Not able to explain the reason on email sounds as though someone doesn’t want to commit the reason to virtual paper, doesn’t it?
For a government which is allegedly committed to transparency and openness, it’s a worrying sign that one of the most senior ministers – and one who is allegedly reworking the education system so that parents have a greater say – appears to be acting in such a secretive way.
A DfE spokesman said: “The permanent secretary believes that the Secretary of State and Special Advisers act within the law.”
According to ‘sources’ quoted by the BBC, Gove’s instruction covers party business only, not matters involving his role as education secretary. Even so, it shows just how easily someone in power can seek to operate in power, but outside the Freedom of Information legislation. After all, are we seriously expected to believe that Gove’s role in the Tory party never overlaps with his role as education secretary?
Those dark corners in politics where the public aren’t allowed seem to be more prevelent than ever.

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