MPs demand action following criticism of Welsh agency: 'Appalling catalogue of failures' leads to call for clamp-down

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Indy Politics
MPs were calling for heads to roll yesterday in the wake of publication by the Commons Public Accounts Committee of a scathing report into the Welsh Development Agency.

In its report, the PAC described events at the WDA in 1991-92 as 'a catalogue of serious and inexcusable breaches of expected standards of control and accountability'.

Among the matters covered in the report, first highlighted in the Independent, were: Operation Wizard, the hiring by WDA officials of City consultants to see how the agency could be privatised and the possible concealment of their charges in the agency accounts; excessive redundancy packages for WDA staff; free private motoring for board members and senior executives; the keeping by the WDA's former North American head of furniture and equipment bought by the WDA; the appointment of Neil Smith, who had previous convictions for deception, as marketing director; the failure of Dr Gywn Jones, the WDA's former chairman, to notify the agency of a change of use of premises for which he had received a WDA grant.

In its report, the committee said the WDA's standards 'have been well below what this committee and Parliament have a right to expect.'

Mr Smith is serving a two-year prison sentence for supplying forged references and curriulum vitae; Dr Jones left the WDA last week. Nevertheless, Alan Williams, Labour MP for Swansea West and a PAC member, said: 'It must be a matter of astonishment to the public that despite this appalling catalogue of failures not one of the major figures has faced any disciplinary action.'

The issues raised, he said, extended beyond Wales to the way in which quangos were run. 'We're very worried about the cavalier attitudes taken by some businessmen brought in to run quangos towards public finance. Unless the Government clamps down and makes an example of the WDA we could end up with other, more alarming episodes.'

The new chairman of the WDA, David Rowe-Beddoe, said 'prompt and effective remedial action has and will be taken and important lessons learnt'.