Chief of Welsh quango resigns in wake of report: MPs deliver damning verdict on board

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The Independent Online
THE CHAIRMAN of a Welsh quango resigned yesterday after a damning report from a cross-party group of MPs.

Glyn Davies stood down from his post as head of the Development Board for Rural Wales. In his resignation letter to John Redwood, Secretary of State for Wales, Mr Davies, 50, said he hoped his action would enable the board to 'recover from any damaging effect resulting from external criticisms'.

Mr Davies is also resigning his membership of three other quangos: the Welsh Development Agency, the Wales Tourist Board, and the new Welsh Economic Council.

The rural board was the second recent Welsh quango, after the development agency, to have its knuckles firmly rapped by the Commons Public Accounts Committee.

Mr Redwood said the report was 'clearly critical of the development board'. He asked for 'a few days, or even weeks' to consider it fully.

For years, MPs said, the development board, which allocated rented houses in rural areas to tenants, had two sets of rules: one that was published and one that remained hidden.

About 20 per cent of the board's housing stock went down the secret route. Such behaviour, the cross- party group of MPs said, was 'wholly unacceptable for any public authority'.

Two beneficiaries of the private criteria were its housing officer and his ex-wife, neither of whom would have qualified for accommodation under the published guidelines.

If that was not bad enough, the decision to grant a house to the housing officer was rushed through without proper documentation - moves described as 'improper' and 'most unsatisfactory' by the committee, which is known for choosing its words carefully.

Much of the anger in this, one of the hardest-hitting reports produced by a Commons select committee, is directed towards the Welsh Office for allowing the board to to operate as a law unto itself. The MPs said: 'We are concerned that weaknesses in financial control in, and unsatisfactory features of, the way public business is conducted by a public body financed by the Welsh Office have again come before the committee.'

Assurances from Mr Redwood that he was conducting an urgent review of the quangos in Wales are noted, but the MPs recommend the study's findings are made public, 'to encourage full and immediate compliance with Government accounting. . .'

Under rules approved by the Welsh Office and Treasury, staff who needed cars for their jobs were provided with them if they themselves contributed two-sevenths of the cost.

But the board, without the approval of the Welsh Office, rewrote the scheme so that staff only had to pay one-seventh, and three directors paid nothing.

When the Welsh Office learned of and refused to authorise the new scheme, the board went ahead regardless. This, the committee said, was an 'affront'.

The board also spent pounds 240,000 in paying off its former chief executive, Dr Iain Skewis, without giving details to the Welsh Office.