Schools

Ministers spent £20k covering up £13k influencer spend

Heads union says it's 'pretty dispiriting that the government thinks it can get away with squandering public money in this way'

Heads union says it's 'pretty dispiriting that the government thinks it can get away with squandering public money in this way'

Exclusive

Ministers “squandered” £20,000 on legal fees trying to hide how much it paid influencers to promote a back-to-school campaign – which is more than the celebrities were paid. 

After a two-and-a-half-year transparency battle with Schools Week, the Cabinet Office revealed last year it paid a total of £13,000 to TV presenter Kirsty Gallacher and celebrity GP Dr Philippa Kaye to support the government’s post-lockdown push to get pupils back in classrooms. 

The department was in the process of taking court action over our freedom of information (FOI) request, but dropped the case at the last minute and handed over the information. 

Now, a new FOI request has revealed the Cabinet Office spent £19,683 on legal fees to fight publication of the information. 

This includes £12,883 on government legal department costs and £3,520 on legal counsel’s fees, as well as VAT. 

Ministers spent £20k trying to keep secret influencer pay

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders union, said spending a larger sum “attempting to cover up the amount they paid originally just adds insult to injury. It is important the public money is used wisely and transparently. Neither has happened in this instance.

“All credit to Schools Week for their tenacity but, frankly, at a time of brewing budget cuts in schools and colleges, it’s pretty dispiriting that the government thinks it can get away with squandering public money in this way.”

The Information Commissioner’s Office had ordered the Cabinet Office to disclose the influencer pay, but ministers decided to challenge the decision in the first-tier tribunal.

However, they pulled out of the case after various legal documents had been prepared and submitted by both parties.

Maurice Frankel, director at Campaign for FOI, said: “Appealing to the tribunal against the ICO decision was unnecessary and the fact that the legal costs dwarfed the actual payments speaks for itself.”

The Cabinet Office has previously spent at least £300,000 blocking similar information requests in court, The Times reported in 2022.

MPs on the public administration and constitutional affairs committee previously found there had been a “slide away from transparency” on some FOIs. 

Press Gazette reported last week that UK public bodies granted just 34 per cent of FOI requests between April to June last year. This is down from 41 per cent granted in 2020 – which was then labelled the “worst on record for government secrecy”.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said they have a “strong commitment to transparency”.

“Despite receiving thousands of FOI requests every month, the vast majority are responded to on time. We also proactively publish more information outside of the Freedom of Information Act than ever before.”

More from this theme

Schools

‘Elite’ Star and Eton sixth forms reveal ‘clearing house’ careers role

Partnership between academy trust and top private school also opens new 'think and do' tank

Schools Week Reporter
Schools

Reception baseline test: Partial move to digital delayed

Standards and Testing Agency had planned to move some elements of the test on-screen from 2024

Freddie Whittaker
Schools

Give parents termly window to request childcare, schools told

Ahead of the launch of the wraparound childcare programme, the government has published new guidance for schools

Jack Dyson
Schools

Labour’s school improvement teams will deliver misogyny training

Research shows rise in references to sexual harassment, abuse and safeguarding incidents in Ofsted reports

Freddie Whittaker
Schools

Lambeth spent £230k on legal fees over superhead departure

It was revealed the council had reached a settlement with Sir Craig Tunstall last month

Freddie Whittaker
Schools

Schools warned over Big Classroom ‘possible subscription trap’

Teachers got stung by bills of nearly £500 and legal threats after signing up for a free trial

Jack Dyson

Your thoughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *