The National Audit Office (NAO) has today published its findings from its investigation into how the Department for Education identified and managed a potential conflict of interest between the Chief Social Worker for Children and Families and a company called Morning Lane Associates. The NAO examined how the Department managed the potential conflicts of interest, both when appointing the Chief Social Worker in April 2013 and since.

The key findings of this investigation are as follows:

  • The prospective Chief Social Worker stood down as a Director of Morning Lane Associates and sold her shares in the organisation prior to taking up her new post. Her letter of appointment in July 2013 makes clear the need to adhere to the Civil Service Code, which includes the management of potential conflicts of interest.
  • The Chief Social Worker raised a potential conflict of interest when she was appointed to the Investment Board of the £100 million Innovation Programme in September 2014. She recused herself from discussion of Morning Lane Associates’ bid for the Innovation Programme on conflict of interest grounds.
  • The Chief Social Worker was not involved when the Department contracted with Morning Lane Associates to appoint it to a call-off contract as an expert adviser.
  • There is no record of how the Chief Social Worker and Department determined in advance what action was appropriate to manage her potential conflict of interest in the process to procure a partner to run the assessment and accreditation scheme for social workers.
  • The Chief Social Worker withdrew from the process of assessing bids for developing a ‘proof of concept’ social work assessment system once it became clear Morning Lane Associates were part of a bidding consortium. Subsequently she was involved in discussions about whether or not the successful bid would fully deliver what Ministers required. The Chief Social Worker and the Department told us that this course of action was taken to consider whether the winning bid would fully deliver what Ministers required and ensure that value for money was achieved and it was considered acceptable at the time for her to discuss the proposal with officials and the preferred bidder.
  • Following an independent review of assessment approaches, the Department negotiated a contract extension to include an element of observed simulated practice in the assessment process.
  • There is no record that the Chief Social Worker had been asked to complete an Assurance Framework Record (an annual return outlining any actual or perceived conflicts of interest), since her appointment in September 2013, despite this being the Department’s policy.

26 October 2016

Read the full report

Investigation: The Department for Education’s management of a potential conflict of interest

Notes for editors

1. The NAO conducts investigations to establish the underlying facts in circumstances where concerns have been raised with us, or in response to intelligence that we have gathered through our wider work. 2. Press notices and reports are available from the date of publication on the NAO website. Hard copies can be obtained by using the relevant links on our website. 3. The National Audit Office scrutinises public spending for Parliament and is independent of government. The Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG), Sir Amyas Morse KCB, is an Officer of the House of Commons and leads the NAO, which employs some 785 people. The C&AG certifies the accounts of all government departments and many other public sector bodies. He has statutory authority to examine and report to Parliament on whether departments and the bodies they fund have used their resources efficiently, effectively, and with economy. Our studies evaluate the value for money of public spending, nationally and locally. Our recommendations and reports on good practice help government improve public services, and our work led to audited savings of £1.21 billion in 2015.

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