High court accuses Gove of ‘abuse of power’

By Ian Dunt

The government has lost a court battle over its decision to scrap a series of school improvement projects.

The high court backed six councils who said Michael Gove had acted unfairly and unlawfully when he cancelled Buildings Schools for the Future projects in their area.

In five of the cases, the government’s failure to consult over the decision was “so unfair as to amount to an abuse of power”, the judge said.

“This ruling is a victory for all the communities and children betrayed by Michael Gove,” shadow education secretary Andy Burnham commented.

“They deserve no less than a full apology from him today and a commitment to act quickly on the court’s finding.

“The ruling calls into question every school building scheme cut by Michael Gove and is a damning verdict on his competence as a minister. He must tell us today how much public money he has spent trying to defend his botched and unfair decisions.

“School building and repair is in complete chaos thanks to him. Mr Gove condemns many children to crumbling classrooms and portakabins whilst waving his cheque book to try to force through more free schools, which will be irrelevant for the majority of parents.”

The Department for Education insisted that the judgement concerned procedural, not substantive questions.

A spokesperson said: “We are delighted that the judge did not call into question the decision to end the wasteful and bureaucratic Building Schools for the Future programme.

“On the substantive points he concluded that it was a rational decision and that the authorities involved had no expectation of being allowed to proceed with their projects.”

The prime minister’s spokesman said: “The basic decision on this stands.”

The government’s upbeat tone resulted from the fact that the judgement ensured there was no challenge to Mr Gove’s ability to make the decision.

“The final decision on any given school or project still rests with him [Gove],” the judge found.

“He may save all, some, a few, or none. No one should gain false hope from this decision.”

The axing of the project last summer triggered a massive outcry, after 700 school rebuilds in England were cancelled.

It earned Mr Gove a reputation as a weak link in Cabinet and triggered a series of legal challenges to the action.

Waltham Forest, Luton Borough Council, Nottingham City Council, Sandwell, Kent County Council and Newham – sought a judicial review, claiming the decision was arbitrary and legally flawed.