Get your coat, Gove: Labour says he must step away from BSF probe

18th February 2011 at 00:00
Burnham calls for independent review in wake of High Court's 'damning verdict'

Education secretary Michael Gove should not be involved in a review of cancelled school building projects, Labour argued this week in response to a High Court ruling.

Shadow education secretary Andy Burnham told the House of Commons on Monday (14 February) that his opposite number should play no part in any review process, following a High Court ruling against the previous decision to axe #163;1 billion worth of projects in six local authorities.

Mr Justice Holman ruled last week that Mr Gove had acted unlawfully by failing to consult six councils when scrapping the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme last summer.

Mr Burnham described the ruling as a "damning verdict" which raised questions over Mr Gove's "competence and judgment". He called on the prime minister to remove the education secretary from the review process.

"We urgently now need an independent inquiry into Michael Gove's handling of this whole sorry saga," he said.

"We hear reports that Michael Gove overruled civil servants who warned that errors were likely and ignored legal advice - this is no way to run a department of state."

He added that Mr Justice Holman had requested that Mr Gove reconsider his decisions regarding the six local authorities "with an open mind".

"By his reaction, Mr Gove has shown that his mind is firmly made up," Mr Burnham said. "That is why, in the interests of fairness, "I am calling on the prime minister to remove Michael Gove from any role in the re-run of this decision."

Mr Gove defended his position, stating that the High Court had ruled in favour of the Government on three out of five criteria and adding that Mr Justice Holman had made it clear that the decisions made were "clear and rational".

"In essence, his view is that my consultation with 14 local authorities in relation to 32 sample schools and a further 119 individual academy projects did not go far enough and I should have included the six claimants in my consultation," Mr Gove said.

"He also judges that I should have had rigorous regard to equalities considerations in reaching my decision."

Mr Gove added: "The judge has not ordered a reinstatement of funding for any BSF project. Nor has he ordered me to pay compensation to any of the claimants."

Last Friday, Mr Justice Holman ruled in favour of six claimants - Waltham Forest Council, Luton Borough Council, Nottingham City Council, Sandwell Council, Kent County Council and Newham Council - to look again at the 58 school rebuilding projects, which would have cost the Government close to #163;1 billion.

The councils argued they had a legitimate expectation that the projects would be funded, and each have now been afforded the opportunity to make representations to Mr Gove.

But Mr Justice Holman warned that none of the local authorities should "gain false hope form this decision".

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