Welsh Government taken to task over Pinewood “comedy of errors”

(Title Image: BBC Wales)

Yesterday, AMs discussed the highly-critical Public Accounts Committee report into the Welsh Government’s relationship with Pinewood Studios – summary here.

“A comedy of errors”

Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, Nick Ramsay AM (Con, Monmouth) said – to groans – that the love story had turned into a comedy of errors. Not only was there lack of clarity over the financial arrangements, but a lack of recognition of potential conflicts of interest.

In addition, the Welsh Government spent £6million on the studio space without undertaking a survey – which most people do when buying a house – and immediate repairs had to be carried out on the roof.

While the process behind the deal was criticised, the Committee reserved judgement on whether the relationship is a success or not:

“We agreed….to reserve judgement on whether the deal with Pinewood has represented value for money, as we recognise that commercial investment in the film and TV industry is….precarious and that it can take many years to realise the economic benefits. We believe there is a balance to be struck between investing public money to maximise investment in Wales and the risk this incurs, but these risks must be managed and the decision-making and governance arrangements around them need to be robust and rigorously informed.”
– Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, Nick Ramsay AM

Mohammad Asghar AM (Con, South Wales East) said this report had all the hallmarks of previous reports, particularly in terms of lack of clarity in terms of operating arrangments and a lack of due diligence.

“….if you’re dealing with Darth Vader, you don’t send Bambi in to negotiate the deal.”

Jenny Rathbone AM (Lab, Cardiff Central) said that while the ambition and vision for the project were laudable and recent successes in film and TV production in Wales proves that projects like this make a positive impact. However, these types of projects need to maximise their impact on the local economy and Wales can’t be seen as an outpost of London in the industry.

Chair of the Culture Committee, Bethan Sayed AM (Plaid, South Wales West), was also supportive of Welsh Government efforts to boost TV and film production in Wales, but that had to come with appropriate oversight and transparency; commercial sensitivity has been used by Ministers to avoid answering tough questions. Some of the Welsh Government dealings to date in the industry have “been riddled with amateur mistakes”.

Suzy Davies AM (Con, South Wales West) was quite blunt as to what lessons needed to be learned from this:

“When you present your next money-making race winner, Ministers, you’d better prove its pedigree upfront. And when you engage in bespoke arrangements—and let’s remember that the Bad Wolf deal is a bespoke arrangement—please make sure that you have procured the necessary negotiating expertise. A director of Bad Wolf, herself a former Government insider, said that capacity was lacking in that department….if you’re dealing with Darth Vader, you don’t send Bambi in to negotiate the deal. “
– Suzy Davies AM

“Substantial growth”

Deputy Minister for Culture, Dafydd Elis-Thomas (Ind, Dwyfor Meirionnydd) was pleased members recognised the importance of the industry:

“We have seen the substantial growth, with an annual turnover of around £2 billion in this sector in Wales, which employs over 58,000 people, and that there are 50 per cent more people working in the industry now than was the case 10 years ago.”
– Deputy Minister for Culture, Dafydd Elis-Thomas

Pinewood has generated value for the Welsh economy and boosted Wales’ credibility in the industry and a further update on the financial performance of the project will be provided in December 2019. While he accepted the principle of carrying out surveys of buildings, there will be occasions where it isn’t entirely appropriate (i.e. when the building is prepared for demolition).

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