Information Commissioner rules Michael Gove has to reveal reasons for axing Sandwell schools scheme

THE Government has lost a landmark legal ruling in its fight with Sandwell Council over keeping secret the reasons for axing the rebuilding of nine schools in the borough.

The Information Commissioner Christopher Graham said it is in the public interest for details and emails be released about why Sandwell's £125m Building Schools for the Future (BSF) was ended.

The move comes almost 18 months after the council made a Freedom of Information request about why funding was refused for BSF.

Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove’s decision to scrap nine Building Schools for the Future projects in the borough, including Perryfields High School in Oldbury, caused consternation in 2010 as he had gave them the go-ahead 24 hours earlier.

Welcoming the decision, council leader Councillor Darren Cooper said: "This has been a long, hard road but I have never given up because BSF was a way for schools to improve and I genuinely want to know why it was axed.

“Was it something we did or didn’t do? Can we avoid the same thing happening in the future? It was surely in the public interest to tell us but the government decided not to come clean."

He added: “Now I urge it to respect this independent judgement and fully explain why it acted as it did.”

Sandwell Council asked to see information such as emails and notes and appealed after the government refused to comply with the request.

Council chiefs then complained to the Information Commissioner after the government turned down the appeal but commissioner twice previously said the Government was right to withhold information.

However, the Commissioner has ruled the public interest outweighs the argument information held by a government department is exempt if it relates to the formulation or development of government policy.

The decision notice said the commissioner "recognises the considerable public debate which ensued from the ending of a major Government programme in which substantial sums of public money had been invested in improving the nation’s schools.

"In his view there is a powerful public interest in understanding the whole picture and in providing full transparency to the reasons which led to the decision to cancel the school improvement programme."

"The Commissioner considers that the public interest in disclosure outweighs the public interest in maintaining the exemption."

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We have received the Information Commissioner’s decision and are currently considering it. It would be inappropriate to comment any further at this stage."

The Government has 28 days to appeal the decision.

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