Irate MPs fire fresh broadside at Welsh Office

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Indy Politics
ANOTHER week and another broadside from irate MPs - from both ends of the political spectrum - against yet another lapse in standards at the Welsh Office.

This time the fire of the influential cross-party Commons Public Accounts Committee, in a report published yesterday, is directed against a range of matters Welsh.

At times, having been down this road before, with scandals at the Welsh Development Agency and last week at the Development Board for Rural Wales, the MPs gave the impression of running out of suitable adjectives to describe their fury. Phrases like 'terrible story', 'unsatisfactory', 'dismay', 'unacceptable', cropped up with frequent regularity.

Heading the litany of complaints is the loss of records and audited accounts relating to pounds 300m of spending on highway improvements. Since he was unable to determine if the money had been spent properly, Sir John Bourn, the Comptroller and Auditor- General, has had no choice but to qualify the office's accounts for the last five years.

Auditors at the highway authorities who passed the money on to contractors had questioned pounds 157m - of which pounds 120m was presumably contained in missing records and claims for the remaining pounds 37m could not be found. 'This falls well short of the standards of accountability for expenditure from public funds which Parliament has a right to expect,' the committee said. 'We look to the Welsh Office to ensure that accounting failures of this magnitude are not repeated.'

Sadly, that is just one of the problems John Redwood, the Secretary of State for Wales, has to contend with.

On Training and Enterprise Councils, the committee found it 'unacceptable that incorrect payments estimated at pounds 5.96m were made to the Tecs in Wales in 1992- 93'. The Department of Employment was partly responsible because it set up the Tecs originally and passed to the Welsh Office the 'problem of weak financial control'.

Nevertheless, what especially galls the MPs is that the committee looked at the Tecs before - by which time their control had passed to the Welsh Office.

Lack of controls were also the reason for overpayments of almost pounds 1m in community charge grant to local authorities. This, MPs said, was due to 'miscalculations and errors by Welsh Office staff'.

A Welsh Office spokesman refused to be moved by the broadside. 'Obviously it's a report that will be studied carefully and a formal reply will be issued in due course,' he said, but could not say when that would be.