Cabinet Office 'should release documents on citizen service funding for Challenge Network'

Shadow minister Roberta Blackman-Woods says the award raises ethical questions because the government's big society adviser Lord Wei helped found the network

Shadow minister Roberta Blackman-Woods
Shadow minister Roberta Blackman-Woods

Roberta Blackman-Woods, the shadow civil society minister, has criticised the Cabinet Office for failing to release documents relating to the government’s big society adviser Lord Wei and the award of a £4.2m grant to an organisation he helped to set up.

In November, the Cabinet Office announced that the Challenge Network would receive funding to run pilot programmes for its National Citizen Service programme.

The network, a young people’s civic engagement charity, was set up by the Shaftesbury Partnership, a social business of which Wei is a founding partner, in 2008.

Blackman-Woods said at the time that the decision raised "serious ethics and transparency questions" and submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the Cabinet Office, asking for details of dates of meetings between Lord Wei and ministers and the topics of discussion. She also asked for details of dates of meetings Lord Wei had on the National Citizen Service programme.

The Cabinet Office refused to release the information, claiming it was exempt from requirements of the act because it related to the formulation of government policy and ministerial communications.

Blackman-Woods has asked the Cabinet Office to review its decision, saying the public interest lies with releasing the information.

"An organisation Lord Wei is closely involved with bid for and was successful in getting a very large government contract to provide services within the National Citizen Service scheme," she says in her letter that requests a review.

"It is therefore clearly a matter of the utmost public interest to determine the extent to which Lord Wei has been involved in the discussions, meetings and decisions regarding the NCS and the bidding process."

Blackman-Woods told Third Sector: "The Cabinet Office is refusing to answer very simple questions about the National Citizen Service procurement process.

"The minister claims that the process was ‘fully open and competitive’ but will not provide the information to back that up."

The Cabinet Office was unable to comment.

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