Tory chairman Grant Shapps told aides to suppress emails that showed he 'misled MPs'

Civil servants believed former housing minister made inaccurate statements about number of affordable homes being built in Britain

A government department spent thousands of pounds attempting to suppress emails showing that civil servants believed their minister may have misled MPs.

Officials in the Department for Communities and Local Government battled for nearly a year to prevent the release of internal correspondence relating to the former Housing minister Grant Shapps.

When they were finally forced to back down by the Information Commissioner and release the emails they showed that civil servants believed Mr Shapps, who is now Conservative Party chairman, had made inaccurate statements about the number of affordable homes being built in Britain.

Sources suggest the cost in staff time by both the department and the publicly funded Information Commission’s Office who had to adjudicate on the matter would have run to several thousands of pounds.

The dispute started after Mr Shapps claimed in the House of Commons that the Coalition would build more affordable homes in five years than the Labour government had done in the 13 years between 1997 and 2010. 

Labour was furious, claiming Mr Shapps had made up the statistics and complained to Andrew Dilnot, the head of the UK Statistics Authority.

In his response Mr Dilnot, in part, backed Labour’s contention and said that “as so often in the public debate” Mr Shapps may have subjected the statistics to “selective use”.

But that was not enough for Labour who then put in a Freedom of Information request asking for the internal correspondence within Mr Shapps’ department over his use of statistics.

But the department claimed it could not release the information on the grounds that it related to the “formulation of government policy” and could “prejudice effective conduct of public affairs”.

Labour appealed first to the department and then, when that was ineffective, to the Information Commissioner’s Office who, 10 months after the initial request, finally found in the party’s favour.

But what the emails reveal is that senior civil servants in the department had reservations about Mr Shapps’ grasp of the facts.

In one an official writes: “This is all a bit complicated but I don’t feel we can offer a strong rebuttal on this.”

Another goes on to admit that in fact Labour had built more than 500,000 affordable homes in office rather than the 270,000 Mr Shapps claimed.

Another email shows Mr Shapps was advised not to use the inaccurate figures again.

Last night Labour said the Government’s reluctance to release the emails was more about sparing Mr Shapps’ blushes than preserving any pressing national interest by preventing their publication.

“Eric Pickles has gone to extraordinary lengths to try and hide his department’s exchanges about the misrepresentation of the housing crisis,” said Hilary Benn, the shadow Communities Secretary.

“Instead of wasting taxpayers’ money to try and avoid his duty to come clean he should have been working to stop the drastic decline in affordable housing.”

But Mr Shapps himself was unrepentant. “The Labour Party is clearly rattled that this Government is building more affordable housing, and don’t want to talk about their appalling record when in government,” he said.

Rewriting history: Grant’s gaffes

In 2010 Mr Shapps said the Office for National Statistics found private-sector rents had fallen by 5 per cent last year while the amount local authorities paid to private landlords had risen by 3 per cent. But the ONS does not collect such statistics and the figures he quoted came from    

This week the Methodist Church accused Mr Shapps of wrongly claiming – to prove the need for welfare reform – that 878,300 people had dropped claims to incapacity benefit “rather than completing a medical test”.

The Church said the figure referred to every claim that had ended since 2008, and was not connected to  the test.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'