Clegg's 12m favour to charity backed by his wife: MPs demand inquiry into huge payment
Booktrust announced it had secured 6m for each of the next two years while other charities will have to wait until next year
Labour and Tories have called for an investigation after leaked emails showed one of Nick Clegg's aides lobbied for the charity to get the grantMiriam Clegg hosted a function for BooktrustMr Clegg's spokesman said there was nothing improper about his interest in the Booktrust grant
01:37 GMT, 2 December 2012
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg personally intervened to help a charity linked to his wife Miriam obtain 12 million of taxpayers’ money.
Labour and Tories joined forces to call for an investigation last night after leaked emails showed one of the Lib Dem leader’s key aides lobbied for Booktrust to be given the grant, instead of competing with other charities.
The organisation announced last week that it had secured 6 million for each of the next two years, while other charities will have to wait until next year – and some will get nothing.
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Lavish reception: As a prominent supporter of the charity, Miriam addressed Booktrust's 20th anniversary event in October
A spokesman for Mr Clegg last night
confirmed that he had asked for Booktrust to be given the 6
million-a-year grant without having to make a special bid for it. But he
denied Mrs Clegg’s link to the charity had been used in any way and
said there had been ‘no wrongdoing’.
Mrs Clegg, who uses her professional
name Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, hosted a lavish reception for Booktrust
in October at one of London’s most grandiose venues, historic Lancaster
Suggestion of impropriety is 'completely wrong': The decision to fast-track the money was made by Education Secretary Michael Gove
Mr Sanders confirmed he sent emails
to the Education Department asking for the charity to get the money
directly – and that he had said Mr Clegg favoured the move.
He said he
had mentioned Mrs Clegg with regard to Booktrust, but only with regards
to the event. He added: ‘I asked for a briefing from officials before
attending the Booktrust event. But I did not mention her name with
regard to funding.’
Significantly, the emails were sent
from Mr Sanders’ official Cabinet Office email address, meaning they can
be subject to future scrutiny.
Mr Clegg’s spokeswoman said there was
nothing improper about Mr Clegg’s close interest in the Booktrust
grant. ‘Any suggestion of impropriety is completely wrong,’ she said.
‘Miriam has no role within the charity, beyond being supportive of its
The decision to fast-track the money
was made by Education Secretary Michael Gove on the advice of officials,
she said. And a No 10 spokesman said that David Cameron also fully
backed the decision.
Mr Clegg’s spokeswoman also said: ‘Miriam has no role in any decisions made by the Government.’
Mr Sanders, who also advises Lib Dem
Schools Minister David Laws, said he made it clear to officials that
both he and Mr Clegg believed Booktrust should be given the 6 million a
year without having to bid for it.
He said other officials supported
this view and that the final decision was taken by Mr Gove. There is no
suggestion of any wrongdoing by Booktrust, which has given away 40
million books to schoolchildren in the past 20 years. It has received
Government grants since 2004.
Thankful: Booktrust chief executive Viv Bird said of the funding: 'I am grateful to Ministers for this vote of confidence'
In 2011, the Department for Education
awarded it 13.5 million over two years; and last Thursday the charity
announced that it had secured another 6 million for both 2013/14 and
2014/15. Chief executive Viv Bird said: ‘I am grateful to Ministers for
this vote of confidence.’
At the charity’s 20th anniversary
party in October, Spanish-born Mrs Clegg said she fell in love with
Britain through reading Enid Blyton’s stories and was keen to encourage
her three sons to read. She quoted Roald Dahl’s Oompa Loompa song, from
Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, ‘So please, oh please, we beg, we
pray, Go throw your TV set away, And in its place you can install, A
lovely bookshelf on the wall.’
The book formed the theme for Mr Clegg’s Christmas party for Lib Dem MPs last week.
On the Booktrust’s website, Mrs Clegg
is quoted praising The Gruffalo as ‘the single favourite book at home’
and last night she and her husband attended a stage production of
Gruffalo author Julia Donaldson’s Room On The Broom in London.
Inquiry into how grant was made: Tory MP Peter Bone (right) says Mr Clegg will have 'serious questions to answer' on the award of public money and Labour MP John Mann (left) said MPs should not interfere on behalf of a body
Last night, Labour and Tory MPs
called for an inquiry into how the Booktrust grant was made, and for all
relevant emails to be published.
Tory MP Peter Bone said: ‘If there
was undue influence over the award of this money, Mr Clegg will have
very serious questions to answer.
‘No one is questioning the good work
of this charity but I would be very concerned if communications from his
office have been used to influence the award of public money. There
should be a Cabinet Office inquiry and I will be writing to the Cabinet
Secretary about this.’
Labour MP John Mann said: ‘Any grant involving public money must be handled the right way.
Ministers should not interfere on
behalf of one body. There needs to be a full inquiry and that means
publishing all relevant communications.’
As part of a savings drive, Booktrust
and other similar groups had been told that this year they would have
to compete for a share of a 60 million Government pot – submitting a
proposal before January.