Treasury ‘concerns’ over costs of Michael Gove’s free schools

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The Treasury has expressed concerns over Michael Gove’s handling of spending on his free-schools programme, The Independent has learnt.

Its intervention emerged as bitter Coalition rows over schools policies threatened to paralyse the Department for Education. Mr Gove, the Conservative Education Secretary, is said to be barely on speaking terms with his Liberal Democrat schools minister, David Laws.

The clashes continued yesterday as Tory and Liberal Democrat sources accused each other of making misleading statements over the use of large sums of schools spending. The latest row to hit the department centres on funding for free schools, which is the key reform of Mr Gove’s tenure.

He was accused by the Liberal Democrats of diverting £400m intended to pay for extra school places to help plug an £800m hole in the free-schools budget.

A spokesman for Mr Gove retorted that the claims were totally wrong and said free schools were being established in areas with growing numbers of children.


The Treasury has become involved in the dispute, telling the department it is worried about the handling of the free-schools budget. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, a Liberal Democrat, has responsibility for government spending.

A Treasury source said: “Concern has been expressed, both at official and at ministerial level, over the cost of free schools.”

A separate government source said the Treasury was taking an “increasingly close interest” in the issue.

He claimed that the Treasury had told Mr Gove it would  not approve rounds of spending on free schools until the budget had been brought under control.

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The Education Secretary was accused yesterday by one government source of being an “ideologically obsessed zealot” and of taking decisions which were “nothing short of lunacy” in an attempt to  balance the books on free-school spending.

Mr Gove’s spokesman replied: “The suggestion we are cutting money for new places in areas of need to pay for free schools where they are not needed is totally wrong.

“These claims pretend money spent in free schools is not creating new places in areas of need. That is simply not true.”

But a senior Liberal Democrat source insisted: “The Conservatives are jumping up and down, but they are not even trying to deny the central fact – that Michael Gove transferred £400m from the ‘basic need’ budget, which is used to provide school places, to half-fill the extraordinary £800m overspend on his pet project of free schools.”

The latest Coalition spat comes days after leaked departmental emails questioned Nick Clegg’s handling of his cherished policy of free school meals for infants.

A survey of just over 1,000 parents carried out by the National Association of Head Teachers reveals 73 per cent believe introducing too much change too quickly damages their child’s education