Michael Gove has defended the controversial patron of Kings Science Academy – insisting he was making the scandal-hit school “better”.
The Education Secretary appeared to back Alan Lewis in the Commons, as attention switched to the business chief who is a vice chairman of the Conservative Party.
Mr Lewis has denied he was ever chairman of governors at the ‘free’ school, which is at the centre of a police fraud investigation.
Yet a department for education (Dfe) audit report last year stated that it understood he acted as chairman between September 2011 and October 2012.
Mr Lewis is already under fire because Kings Science Academy was built on land owned by his company, in a deal worth almost £6m in rent over 20 years.
During education questions in the Commons, Bradford East MP David Ward stepped up the attack by arguing it was clear that Mr Lewis had pulled the financial strings.
The Liberal Democrat told Mr Gove: “I have been told the report by the auditors – recommended to the school by Mr Lewis – was presented directly to him and amended by him as a result of his comments.
“Would you agree that this provides evidence of both financial management and governance within the school?”
In reply, Mr Gove said: “Mr Lewis was responsible for commissioning a report which played a part in helping to ensure that Kings Science Academy moved from a difficult position to a better one. But I must stress that I don’t want to say anything that might prejudice an ongoing police report.”
The Education Secretary added: “Mr Lewis is receiving, for this property, an appropriately guaranteed market rent, less than he was receiving beforehand for it.”
But Kevin Brennan, Labour’s schools spokesman, said Mr Lewis was “not just a benefactor – he’s actually a landlord, a vice-chair of the Conservative Party and a major Tory donor.”
He added: “Is that anything to do with the fact that you have refused to take any action whatsoever against anyone since this scandal broke?”
Kings Science Academy must repay about £77,000 after “fabricated invoices” for rent were submitted to the Dfe – something only revealed when a secret report was leaked.
Payments also went towards teachers’ furniture, with more than £600 spent on parties or meals and £169 given to an employee to buy clothes.