Taxpayers funded schools plan

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The Independent Online
TAXPAYERS' money was probably used to pay for propaganda to encourage schools to opt out of local authority control, according to a leaked Department for Education report.

The revelation follows criticism by the Commons Public Accounts Committee of the misuse of public funds. It will embarrass the Government and could damage the reputation of John Patten, Secretary of State for Education.

The Grant Maintained Schools Centre (GMSC), an independent body, received a government grant of pounds 500,000 a year to provide advice and support to schools that had opted out of local authority control. Investigators from the Department for Education suspected that some of this money was used for a quite different purpose: campaigning for more schools to leave local council control, in accordance with government policy.

The campaigning was carried out by a group called Choice in Education, which shared offices with the GMSC and whose director, Andrew Turner, was on the GMSC payroll. The centre insists that this was an administrative convenience and that all the campaigning money came from private sources.

Government accountants were unable to reach a definite conclusion, but said some grant money had been diverted to campaigning. 'It seems probable,' they said, 'that some of the grant has financed non-grant functions.'

Their conclusions were outlined in a confidential report last spring. Yesterday, Stephen Byers, Labour MP for Wallsend, revealed the report, which had been leaked to him. He said: 'Having seen this report, it is quite clear why the Government has sought to suppress it. This is a clear misuse of taxpayers' money.'

Since the investigation was carried out, Choice in Education has been wound up and Andrew Turner has become an employee of the GMSC. But the centre's grant has been increased to pounds 790,000 for the current financial year and it has the additional role of providing factual information on opting out.

Labour's education spokeswoman, Ann Taylor, has called for the Public Accounts Committee to hold a fresh investigation.