Gillian Keegan’s department ‘gave £1m from schools rebuilding pot to company linked to husband’

‘Questions to answer’ claims Labour, after Michael Keegan’s connection to firm with IT contract revealed

Adam Forrest
Political Correspondent
Wednesday 06 September 2023 20:05 BST
Primary school headteacher reacts to Keegan's sweary outburst: 'I am horrified'

Education secretary Gillian Keegan has “serious questions to answer”, said Labour, after it emerged that a company linked to her husband was handed a £1m contract from a schools rebuilding fund.

The cabinet minister’s husband Michael Keegan states on his LinkedIn social media page that he is a non-executive director at technology firm Centerprise.

The company was one of six suppliers awarded IT contracts earlier this year to replace server infrastructure at schools, with the money coming from the school rebuilding programme (SRP) fund, according to the Daily Mirror.

The Department for Education (DfE) said no ministers had had any involvement in the procurement process for these contracts – but shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson claimed that the optics are not good for the government.

“This appears to be a gross conflict of interest, and eyebrows will be raised that the Keegans appear to have gained from a shrinking pot of school rebuilding money,” she said.

The latest round of SRP funding saw Centerprise win a contract to “deploy servers including migration of data and systems”. Mr Keegan is believed to have served on the Centerprise board as a non-executive director since 2018. There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by Mr or Ms Keegan.

The firm’s director of marketing and opportunity management Mike Thomas told the Mirror: “We and the Cabinet Office are mindful of any potential conflicts of interest and steps have been put into place to ensure that his non-executive board ­advisory role does not conflict with our ­day-to-day business.”

He told The Independent: “Any contract awarded to Centerprise by the DfE or any other government department was competed for through the appropriate Crown Commercial Services framework agreements.”

A DfE spokesperson said: “Ministers had no involvement in the procurement process for these contracts, which were awarded in line with existing government commercial procedures.”

Gillian Keegan is under pressure over the Raac crisis in schools

It comes as Ms Keegan has found herself under pressure over her latest comments about schools and the crumbling concrete crisis – asking headteachers who have yet to return questionnaires about Raac to “get off their backsides”.

But Geoff Barton, head of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said some headteachers who phoned the DfE’s hotline for the crumbling concrete crisis have been put through to an “apprenticeship hotline” instead. One head had returned the questionnaire three times, he added.

One senior Tory, a former minister, told The Independent Ms Keegan was guilty of “amateur slip-ups” when speaking to the media, and warned that her job was “in danger” if the government failed to get a grip on the Raac crisis.

Another former minister said the crisis had been “terribly handled” by Ms Keegan and her schools minister Nick Gibb. They said that Raac was a “long-standing issue that should be being dealt with locally – they’ve turned it into a national crisis”.

The ASCL and other unions have attacked the government for cutting the last Labour government’s Building Schools for the Future programme. Funding for at least 13 of the schools found to have crumbling concrete was scrapped by the Conservative-led coalition government back in 2010, it has emerged.

Mr Barton said that the problem would take 440 years to fix under Mr Sunak’s plan to rebuild 50 schools a year – noting that it would have been completed by now if it had been implemented at the time of the Spanish Armada.

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