Minister’s charity funds opponents of ‘red tape’

A charity run by the academies minister Lord Agnew donated £12,000 to a project set up to look into cutting regulations after Brexit, it has emerged.

Accounts for the Public Interest Foundation, a charity founded by Agnew, his wife Clare and businessman David Tibble, show the Red Tape Foundation was one of eight main benefactors given grants in the last financial year ending April.

The Red Tape Initiative, sometimes referred to as “the other Brexit department”, was set up in 2016 by former cabinet minister and Conservative MP Sir Oliver Letwin and Tory peer Lord Marland.

I strongly support the work that the Red Tape Initiative does. I have done this in a private capacity. The donation was made before I became a minister

According to its website, the group exists to “identify the most important, least controversial opportunities for cutting red tape in a post-Brexit world”.

Agnew, founding chairman of the Inspiration Trust academy chain, was appointed parliamentary under-secretary of state for the school system last September, replacing Lord Nash.

The Red Tape Initiative payment was disclosed in charity accounts published late August. However, the Conservative peer insisted the donation was made before he was appointed to his ministerial office.

“I strongly support the work that the Red Tape Initiative does. I have done this in a private capacity. The donation was made before I became a minister,” he told Schools Week.

The project claims to be wholly non-partisan and brings together remainers and leavers from all three major UK-wide political parties.

For instance, David Laws, the former Liberal Democrat schools minister, and Labour’s Liam Byrne, a former shadow education minister, sit on its cross-party advisory board.

In the financial year to April 5, the Public Interest Foundation paid out £102,100 in grants. The largest grant handed out by the organisation was £32,500 for the Inspiration Trust.

The foundation also handed £10,000 to the University of East Anglia, £7,500 to the Relationship Foundation and £5,000 to the Norfolk Churches Trust Limited, of which Lady Agnew is a trustee. Policy Exchange, a right-leaning think tank established by former education secretary Michael Gove, also received £3,500.

In August, Agnew finally resigned from his roles at the Inspiration Trust, almost a year after he became a minister.

It followed conflict of interest concerns over Agnew’s dual role, particularly after Schools Week revealed in May how one the trust’s schools received a softened report from Ofsted after inspectors returned just four months after a damning inspection.