Lib Dems accuse Tories of leaking emails over cost of free school meals

Whitehall Editor

Senior Tories were accused of running a campaign to “maliciously leak” Whitehall documents to damage their coalition partners in the run-up to this month’s local elections.

Government emails surfaced today suggesting Nick Clegg was ready to make schools spend less on teaching to “subsidise” his plan to give free school meals to all pupils aged four to seven.

The emails turned out to be misleading – but the story led the BBC lunchtime radio news, to the fury of the Liberal Democrats.

The latest row comes less than 10 days after the Tories were accused of releasing secret cabinet correspondence that showed Mr Clegg was blocking Tory plans to toughen punishments for knife crime. The Daily Mail published an internal letter to Mr Clegg from Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, saying that mandatory six-month jail terms for adults convicted of a second knife offence would be too expensive.

Both leaks have infuriated the Liberal Democrat leadership, who see them as part of a Tory ploy to undermine the party by releasing confidential Whitehall documents.

“This is no way to run a Government,” said a senior Liberal Democrat source. “It is an act of bad faith, makes it more difficult to make sensible policy and undermines confidence.”

In the latest spat, emails were leaked to the BBC’s World at One programme suggesting that civil servants had warned Mr Clegg that his free school meal plan risked diverting money from teaching and school repairs.

One email stated: “I am concerned that there is a risk that the Deputy Prime Minister and others are about to make public statements that suggest that the additional £80m for free school meals can be found from within the Department’s budget without an impact on other education capital budgets – firstly, because this is not true.”

Another leaked letter, from Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, to Mr Alexander, stated: “I am sure that you will agree with me that we must not risk forcing schools to subsidise meals by reducing their spending on teaching and learning.”

The World at One then quoted Dominic Cummings, Mr Gove’s former special adviser: “Clegg has been lying about the announcement from the start to cover up the abuse of taxpayers’ money for his personal ends.”

But the Department for Education made clear that no money would be diverted from either the capital budget or schools spending to pay for the policy. It would be paid for partly out of additional money from the Treasury and partly out of a one-off underspend in the DfE’s budget the previous year.

Sir Malcolm Bruce, the Liberal Democrats’ Deputy Leader, called on Mr Gove to “put a bit of a constraint on some of the ideologues who are trying to undermine [the meals policy] and acknowledge that he has signed [it off] and fully supports it. He should call his dogs off.”

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Technician - 1st Line

£19000 - £21000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPOR...

Year 3 Teacher

£100 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: KS2 TeacherWould you like ...

Teacher

£100 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Would you like to have a b...

KS2 Teacher

£100 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Ofsted said "A good larger...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London