Thursday, 2 October 2008

First Minister proved wrong within 72 hours

As if by magic, a comprehensive example has been given in today's media which inadvertantly responds to a previous post of mine, and point the finger firmly in the direction of Rhodri Morgan's Welsh Assembly Government.

Just days ago, First Minister Rhodri Morgan was quoted as saying "If you look at our record I have led a government without any scandals" Reacting to an accusation from Mr Bourne that he had "squandered" public money, Mr Morgan said the assembly government had consistently been given a clean bill of health by auditors.

An official report by the Wales Audit Office [note the word AUDIT Mr Morgan] now reports that the £13.5m bail-out of the Wales Millennium Centre followed "severe deficiencies" by assembly officials and ministers. A "Wholly inadequate record-keeping" by the assembly government added to its lack of understanding of the venue's finances.

Former Labour Culture Minister Alun Pugh claims he inherited a "flawed" plan from his Lib Dem predecessor, which has been rebutted by Peter Black in a post earlier today:

What was equally bizarre was the performance of the former Culture Minister, Alun Pugh on the radio this morning. As far as he is concerned it was all the fault of his predecessor, Welsh Liberal Democrat AM, Jenny Randerson. He pointed out quite correctly that the centre's original business plan underestimated the cost of running the facility.

Putting aside the issues of collective responsibility which makes the Labour Ministers at the time as equally culpable for this business plan, any proper examination of the facts reveal that Mr. Pugh is being fairly conservative in his choice of facts.

The Centre opened in November 2004, over a year and a half after Jenny Randerson had ceased to be Culture Minister. Alun Pugh had had ample time to get his feet under the table by then and sort out any problems he may have inherited. According to the auditor's report he clearly failed to do so. Instead he has tried to pass the buck, something that does him no credit at all.

The Auditor General's report on the Wales Millennium Centre reveals some very major weaknesses in the way that the Assembly Government has managed its huge investment in the facility. In particular, Ministers and officials failed to keep an eye on the business risks once it opened:

Auditor General Jeremy Colman reported:

The Wales Millennium Centre was a high-risk, complex project, and although the public bodies funding it followed good practice in many areas, particularly through joint monitoring, there were some fundamental weaknesses. The project would have been better served if the Welsh Assembly Government had paid equal attention to addressing the risks involved in funding a successful business as they did to addressing the risks in funding the construction.

He said the Assembly Government had failed to keep up-to-date records on the WMC’s performance. He added: “The civil servants took a view the material they would otherwise have to hold was commercially sensitive and therefore was at risk of having to be disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act if anyone asked for it.“Well, we think that is an extremely bad reason for not keeping proper records; an extremely bad reason for not carrying out effective monitoring.

Conservative culture spokesman Paul Davies said:

This is a damning report that highlights in no uncertain terms the failings of the assembly government. The report clearly states the assembly government did carry out detailed reviews of the WMC's business plans, plans which highlighted several key risks. But crucially, it then stopped short of assessing and addressing these problems. This beggars belief.
He said the assembly government "effectively washed their hands" of the centre once it had been built, and added: "The assembly government have now got some very difficult questions to answer."

An assembly government spokesperson said:
The Minister for Heritage [Alun Ffred Jones] will consider the Wales Audit Office report on the Wales Millennium Centre, and the recommendations made, and will respond in due course.
Peter Black AM goes on to question on his blog:
This report states: “Although officials told us that they could access records held at the WMC on request, we have seen no evidence that they did so.”

The fact that officials failed to keep proper records because they were afraid of the Freedom of Information Act is just bizarre. How many other projects are they taking the same approach to? We need some answers.
Mr Morgan. The Welsh public will need you to greatly improve, not only in areas of policy proposals, competence and delivery, but also in the area of excuse making.


Bernie 2 October 2008 at 18:41  

Rhodri is no stranger to telling porkies. Do you remember all the exaggerated benefits that the "Bonfire of the Quangos" were meant to bring?

What a human joke!!!!!!!!

Anonymous 2 October 2008 at 18:50  

Passing the buck has always been the answer in Cardiff Bay and Cathays Park since the origins of the Welsh Assembly Government.

In power since 1999, they are running out of people to blame and can't revert back to the old excuse of... blame the Conservatives, or the government in London.

Will from Cowbridge 2 October 2008 at 18:54  

There was plenty of time for Alun Pugh and the Labour administration to change the course of action in this farce. Let's hope he doesn't return after that lame excuse.

labour loss 2 October 2008 at 19:04  

This is definately a sign of things to come.

With all the bad publicity surrounding the Assembly Government, Rhodri's tenure as First Minister will end on a note of failure at this rate.

This saddens me as a Labour voter and a party member for 20 years.

Rhetoric Innes 2 October 2008 at 19:19  

if it is true that no real records were kept and there was a fear of an FOIA request this is corruption.

Anonymous 2 October 2008 at 19:35  

"if it is true that no real records were kept and there was a fear of an FOIA request this is corruption."

and no-one will be held accountable. Neither ministers or civil servants. Priceless.

Robert Isaac 2 October 2008 at 21:22  

Do you mean to say that because the Western Mail have swamped the WAG with FOI requests over the years, that this has made them fear them?

I'm looking forward to how the government fully explain this one.

Anonymous 3 October 2008 at 07:47  

Does anyone know who the Complaints Officer is in WAG?

All my FOI request to the organisation have been turned down

Anonymous 3 October 2008 at 09:39  

You can write to an Ombudsman. There should be an address on the FOI page of the WAG website.

Anonymous 3 October 2008 at 10:52  

Strange that the Welsh Blog Index has flagged up the Seb Coe story, but not this little gem.

Do you think it's run by Plaid?

Ian 4 October 2008 at 12:40  

This story deserves the greatest scrutiny, as a significant amount of public money is involved. Yet, in all your comments, you neglect to mention that this was the responsibility of the previous WAG and not the current one.
In fact, the Plaid Minister in the current WAG actually took on the issue and worked to set up a more sustainable funding structure for the WMC, resolving the problem.
It's a pity that you are keen to point out that the Lib Dem Minister was not responsible when in her role, but not to point out that the current WAG was not responsible either.
Showing your political colours there, methinks?

Anonymous 4 October 2008 at 13:26  

Ian, in case you haven't noticed the Welsh Assembly Government has been the same since 1999. The moving of a few ministerial positions means nothing.

The Plaid Minister only asked questions when the WMC came again with the begging bowl.

Ian 4 October 2008 at 21:13  

There have been two coalitions as well as a Labour administration and the deals that created this mess took place under the Lib/Lab coalition and the previous Labour administration. The Plaid Minister dealt with the problem when faced with it, unlike the previous Labour Minister who swept it under the carpet hoping that it would go away.

Anonymous 4 October 2008 at 23:14  

Isn't the post about Rhodri Morgan being proved wrong and not a defence of Plaid in government?

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