The not-so-hidden agendas

On the front page of today’s Guardian we read the following:

The controversial Tory initiative to set up free schools received fast-track public funding after fierce lobbying from education secretary Michael Gove‘s inner circle of advisers, according to leaked emails.

Civil servants were urged that the New Schools Network (NSN) – a charity providing advice and guidance to set up the schools – should be given “cash without delay”, in a disclosure which will heighten concern over the government’s lack of transparency about the wider free schools programme.

The charity, which is headed by a former Gove adviser, was subsequently given a £500,000 grant. No other organisation was invited to bid for the work.

The award was made after an email from Dominic Cummings, a Tory strategist and confidant of Gove, called for: “MG telling the civil servants to find a way to give NSN cash without delay.”

Cummings went on to work for the charity on a freelance basis.

Sent after the election last May, his message goes on to say: “Labour has handed hundreds of millions to leftie orgs – if u guys cant navigate this thro the bureauc then not a chance of any new schools starting!!”

Tucked away in a corner of page 7 of the same paper there is this:

Andrew Lansley’s bill contains a clause designed to give autonomy to NHS commissioning groups. Photograph: Andrew Winning/Reuters

The health secretary will be able to “wash his hands” of the NHS after forthcoming legislation which will take away his duty to provide a national health service, according to legal advice funded by campaigners.

The legal opinion, commissioned and paid for by members of the 38 Degrees website, justifies the widespread public concern about the government’s health reforms, in spite of Andrew Lansley‘s assurances that he has listened and responded to criticisms, they say.

The independent legal team says the health and social reform bill removes the health secretary’s responsibility for NHS provision through a “hands-off” clause designed to give autonomy to commissioning groups.

David Babbs, executive director of 38 Degrees, said one legal opinion suggested responsibility for provision would instead fall to an unknown number of “clinical commissioning groups”. Babbs said: “The so-called ‘hands off’ clause … removes political accountability, which is the only real control voters have on the way the NHS is delivered. We won’t be able to fire people on regulatory bodies or private healthcare companies when things go wrong.

“None of us voted for these fundamental changes to the NHS. They weren’t in any party’s manifestos, or the coalition agreement, so 38 Degrees members have clubbed together to get legal advice to convince MPs that the changes shouldn’t be pushed ahead and that the public’s concerns need to be taken seriously.”

Dr Clare Gerada, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said the legal advice gave cause for concern: “Having seen these legal opinions, they raise serious concerns for GPs. As family doctors, we want to ensure any changes to the NHS safeguard its future and benefit patients. The advice of these legal experts brings this into question. That is worrying and the government needs to respond.”

One might be tempted to call both Messrs. Gove and Lansley devious, if it were not for the fact that one has never been in any doubt about how far they will go to promote their agendas.

 

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