Monday, 6 February 2012

Wales Audit Office investigate top civil servant over Llangollen project

Attempts by the Permanent Secretary of Wales to hush up growing concerns over the handling of the 'Powys Fadog' community project in Llangollen have spectacularly backfired. The country’s top civil servant Dame Gillian Morgan is now under investigation herself for her role in stopping the project.

The project was just days away from beginning when Gillian Morgan intervened and over ruled all previous decisions by senior officials to get the venture off the ground, she also took away funding already awarded to the community group. The audit office is now investigating why the Permanent Secretary intervened and why she controversially chose to block the project.

With public concerns mounting after two separate calls for a Public Inquiry from Assembly Members were turned down, Gillian Morgan attempted to ‘quieten down the noise’ over River Lodge/Powys Fadog. She approached the Wales Audit Office in November to ask them to investigate the purchase of the River Lodge hotel in Llangollen,which she had blocked in January 2010. Following discussions with AMs Mark Isherwood and Llyr Huws Gruffydd, who had both raised concerns over the Permanent Secretaries involvement, the Audit Office have now expanded the investigation to look at the role she’s played in the saga.

Leader of Powys Fadog, Pol Wong said: “This investigation is long overdue, I can’t see how it’s reasonable for the Permanent Secretary to override the decisions of scores of officials made over a number of years without any reasonable explanation. In fact we were not even informed that it had been halted. Surely if there was a legitimate problem, she would have explained what it was several years ago, instead of refusing to answer questions. The Government have repeatedly refused to speak about their decision and have twice refused to hold a Public Inquiry. I have given evidence to the Auditor which up to now has not been even looked at”

“Considering the current economic climate and the fact that we will provide 30 jobs, child care facilities and bring in thousands of tourists to Llangollen from all over the world, it is baffling as to why the Permanent Secretary and Welsh Government are blocking this project. We would also now be paying £31,000 a year rent,instead the building is empty, deteriorating and is an eyesore on the gateway into Llangollen. The building has been broken into many times and much damage has been done, although it is not insured.”

“The Powys Fadog project is a fantastic opportunity for the people of north Wales,an institution that actually generates its own income and then uses that income to provide training for employment, business start up advice and support, as well as promoting Llangollen and Welsh culture internationally. This is a not for profit project run by local people for the local communities benefit. After all that we’ve been through, we are still 100% determined to make this project happen.”

North Wales Assembly Member Llyr Huws Gruffydd added: “I welcome the Audit Office investigation given the many unanswered questions and outstanding concerns about the handling of this community project. The project has the potential to contribute a great deal both economically and in terms of community benefits for north east Wales.It also has the potential to build cultural links internationally which is a Government priority. I will look forward to reading the Auditors report which I understand is due to be completed in May and will be publicly available”.


Mary Williams said...

It's about time!!! This has been a shameful (and baseless) intervention, which is keeping a worthwhile project from starting. Does Ms. Morgan have financial, personal, family, or political ties to an alternative project? From whence does her sneaky opposition come? A whim? A fit of pique? An irrational dislike of the principals in the project?
Will the audit be kept secret, too?

Pol said...

This is article is from Golwg 360 about the response they had from the Auditor and the welsh Government on behalf of Gill Morgan ,the permanent Secretary.

Audit Office contradicts Wales Government
February 8, 2012 12:57, Last updated 18:01

River Lodge Hotel, Llangollen

The Wales Audit Office have contradicted the Government of Wales over a controversial investigation into a community project.

A statement from the WAO to Golwg seems to confirm the allegation from the project’s leader that it was the Audit Office, not the Government's top civil servant, who asked for a full investigation the matter.

Yesterday, a Welsh Government spokesman claimed that the Permanent Secretary, Gillian Morgan, has asked for an investigation into all aspects of the project in Llangollen, but the WAO statement stated otherwise.

They declared that Gillian Morgan asked for an investigation into the treatment process in terms of the project but that the office has said that there must be an investigation into more than that.

The contradiction

The contradiction arose after Powys Fadog’s project leader, Pol Wong, alleged that the Permanent Secretary has intervened to stop the plan to turn old hotel into a cultural centre and create about 30 jobs.

It also claims that Gillian Morgan has called for an investigation limited to calm the calls for full investigation.

According to the Audit Office, the Permanent Secretary had asked for an investigation into the Government's original decision to give money to buy the hotel for £ 1.6 million in 2007.

But the Office has insisted that the investigation also looks at how the plan was stopped suddenly in 2010 when the project organisers were hoping for another £249,000 via the Government to start the project.

According to the spokesman for the Government, the allegations by Pol Wong are "nonsense".

The two statements

Here is the statement that came yesterday from the Welsh Government, in response to allegations by Pol Wong. It has been translated.

"A Wales Government spokesman said, 'This is nonsense - the Permanent Secretary (herself) has invited the Wales Audit Office to investigate ALL aspects of this project."

A statement came a little later by the National Audit Office (yet again translated): "The Permanent Secretary asked the Auditor General to look at the suitability of her decision that the original agreement for River Lodge Hotel, Llangollen, did not meet acceptable standards of propriety. The Auditor General agreed to conduct the examination, but said it should also look at issues and subsequent decisions about other options for the property. The investigation therefore seeks to answer the question: Were the decisions made by the Welsh Government regarding the purchase of River Lodge, Llangollen, and its subsequent use in providing value for money. "

Golwg has asked both to explain the apparent difference between their views.

This was the response to the Audit Office application today (translated):

"The Permanent Secretary asked the Auditor General to examine the project. It was largely irrelevant in terms of whether it was only one decision or every decision, because the important point is that the Auditor General decided on the scope of the project and each of the key decisions that have been made in terms of the property should be examined. "

In response to a request for clarification this afternoon, the Government of Wales sent this statement (translated):

"As we clearly stated yesterday, the Permanent Secretary has invited the Wales Audit Office to investigate all aspects of the project."