The Prince of Wales has admitted he privately lobbied Alex Salmond to promote a charity that wanted to win contracts to train new teachers in Scotland, according to official documents released following a lengthy disclosure battle.
Four months after the Scottish government refused to release the unredacted correspondence to the Guardian, ministers have relented and produced papers detailing how the prince personally lobbied the then first minister in June 2013.
A previously censored letter confirms that the charity Teach First used the meeting between “our patron, HRH the Prince Charles” and Salmond to pressure the then Scottish education secretary, Mike Russell, into meeting its chief executive, Brett Wigdortz.
A previously withheld email shows the prince’s private secretary, Mark Leishman, saying he “would be delighted” to set up a meeting between the minister and Wigdortz a year before the prince’s intervention with the first minister.
After months refusing to admit that he had personally intervened to promote Teach First, a spokesman for the prince, known as the Duke of Rothesay in Scotland, confirmed that the heir to the throne had lobbied Salmond on its behalf.
Set up with the prince’s help 15 years ago, Teach First wanted the Scottish government to loosen strict rules that require Scottish teachers to first take a year-long postgraduate degree. It has placed thousands of graduates in English and Welsh schools, earning fees for each trainee placed in a school, as well as government grants.
“Given Teach First’s considerable success in improving the fortunes of schools and their pupils in England, it should come as no surprise that, as patron, the duke would offer to share their insight and expertise in Scotland through introductions to key individuals within the organisation,” the prince’s spokesman said.
Scotland’s freedom of information legislation, which allows publication of royal correspondence with ministers, is more liberal than far stricter UK legislation that forbids the release of correspondence from the royal household, after the Guardian won a legal action to force ministers to release the prince’s “black spider memos” from 2005 and 2006.
Until the prince’s intervention, Russell had refused requests from Clarence House and Teach First to meet the charity’s executives. Three months after the Salmond meeting, Russell wrote to Teach First saying he would be very pleased to see them.
Its executives then met Nicola Sturgeon after she became first minister and her education secretary, John Swinney. In October, Swinney launched a tendering process for a new fasttrack teaching programme with significant similarities to Teach First’s proposals, despite the objections of teaching unions and universities.
The Guardian revealed in August that the Scottish government had censored the papers to remove evidence of the prince’s lobbying campaign and had refused to release the email from Leishman. At that time, Clarence House refused to admit that the prince had lobbied Salmond.
Ministers said they were exempt under Scotland’s freedom of information laws, leading to demands from three opposition parties that ministers publish the correspondence in full. The papers were released this week after the Guardian lodged an appeal with the Scottish information commissioner.
Salmond told the Guardian he welcomed publication of these letters and insisted he had always believed royal correspondence should be disclosed, but he defended the right of the royal family to lobby ministers in private meetings.
“Discussions at royal audiences by their nature are confidential otherwise ministers would hardly be free to advise. This is a characteristic they share with cabinet meetings,” Salmond said.
“The Duke of Rothesay was well within his rights to suggest a meeting with Teach First. His interest in education and youth employment in Scotland is both well known and well meant and some substantial work has been pursued by his own charities such as the Prince’s Trust and the Scottish Youth Business Trust.”
Patrick Harvie, co-convenor of the Scottish Green party, said these disclosures strengthened the case for stricter lobbying regulations to ensure the royal family are not given special privileges to lobby ministers on policies not related to their constitutional duties.
A debate should also start on whether a new transparency act was needed to ensure public policy was not being influenced by unaccountable groups, Harvie said.
“It’s clear that nobody comes out of this business well,” he said. “The Prince of Wales has clearly been using his privileged access to lobby for friends, allowing the office of heir to the throne to be treated as a cab for hire.”
Scotland has no blanket exemption for the royal family. However, it does give the royal family greater protections than most other public bodies, despite protests last year from the then Scottish information commissioner, Rosemary Agnew, who said the extra protections for royal correspondence went far further than the legislation required.Despite the lobbying, Teach First has pulled out of the fast-track training tendering process. It said it was pleased with the reforms but the timescales involved were too short and did not allow them enough time to prepare a bid. It was also reported this autumn that Scottish universities offering teacher training degrees had refused to work with it.
Iain Gray, Scottish Labour’s education spokesman, said the process that led to the rule change was of concern. “Clearly a huge amount of ministerial effort went in to pandering to this lobbying,” he said.
A Scottish government spokesman said: “While members of the royal family may write to ministers on a range of issues, they have no role or influence in decision making or the development of Scottish government policy.”