“Lessons learned” from lax rural development grant funding oversight after critical Audit Wales report

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Boris Johnson’s spending announcement “a non-event”

Reacting to yesterday’s announcement of a £5billion infrastructure programme by UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, Rhun ap Iorwerth MS (Plaid, Ynys Môn) said it was “an almost ridiculously small amount” and will result in no extra spending in Wales.

In such circumstances, “if they won’t do it for us, we’ll have to do it ourselves”, so when will work start of granting the Welsh Government extra flexibility with their financial powers?

Finance Minister, Rebecca Evans (Lab, Gower), confirmed that the announcement won’t mean any extra funding in Wales, but was a reprofiling of existing spending in England anyway, not a grand “New Deal”.

“Local government is also working really hard to identify shovel-ready projects right across Wales, so that we are able to get that geographical spread of investment, bearing in mind that some communities are going to be hit particularly hard by the economic fallout of the coronavirus as well. And, of course, we have our Wales infrastructure investment plan which contains billions of pounds of potential investment as well, so that will be really important.”
– Finance Minister, Rebecca Evans

Issues in rural development grants “identified and dealt with”

Audit Wales recently published a report (pdf), stating that £53million of Rural Development Programme grants were awarded without any assessment that they would deliver value for money.

Shadow Finance Minister and Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, Nick Ramsay MS (Con, Monmouth), said this would be an issue his committee will look at another time, but the most disturbing finding was that £25million of the money was awarded without proper checks.

What confidence could the public have that efforts to finance the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic will get the best possible value for Welsh taxpayers?

The Minister told the Senedd that the Rural Development Programme is under review and many of the weaknesses in the programme have already been identified.

“….the projects concerned were reviewed to ensure that they did deliver value for money, and where appropriate, action was taken to ensure that they did achieve value for money, including re-tendering some of those projects. But of course, since then, as I say, we have identified those issues we’ve learned.”
– Finance Minister, Rebecca Evans

She added that value-for-money is being developed as a module for compulsory training of senior civil servants at the Welsh Government.

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