Newport MP calls for police probe after damning report on Gwent quango
PROBE CALL: Newport MP Paul Flynn has called for police to re-open the investigation into the Caldicot and Wentlooge Drainage Board
NEWPORT MP Paul Flynn yesterday called for police to re-open the investigation into a quango slammed in an auditor’s report.
Yesterday, a Gwent Police spokeswoman told the Argus that a man aged 47 and a woman aged 53, both from the Abergavenny area, had been arrested last December on suspicion of misappropriation of public funds, in a probe into the Caldicot and Wentlooge Drainage Board, but no criminal offences were identified and those arrested were released without charge.
The spokeswoman said that despite the damning Wales Audit Office report released on Monday, the police probe will not be reopened.
Yesterday, Newport West MP Mr Flynn, who sat on the board for ten years in the 1970s, said he wanted to know what actions are being taken to recover money. He said of the report’s findings: “These practices are outrageous.
“There must be a deeper investigation into what has been going on I would say there is a question mark over the future of this body.
“Prosecution should be applied, and action should be taken by the Welsh Government.
It’s apparent that a substantial sum of public money has been misused and I believe questions must be asked about how this quango is run in the future.
“At the very least, all members who were on the board at this time should resign immediately. I have written to the board to arrange a meeting with them in the interests of the Newport taxpayers.”
Mr Flynn’s comments came after a former member of the board said he raised concerns about its operation almost two years ago.
And yesterday, the chairman of the Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee said there may be an inquiry after the Wales Audit Office’s report into the Caldicot and Wentlooge Drainage Board revealed thousands of pounds had been spent on trips abroad and to Northern Ireland for members, its former most senior member of staff, Dean Jackson-Johns, had been overpaid, three members had taken part in meetings where the board decided howto respond to a legal case where they had a conflict of interest, and the Newport-based body had acted unlawfully on occasions.
The WAO report said the board, which has an income of around £1m a year, should consider asking Mr Jackson-Johns for a payback.
Former Undy councillor James Harris sat on the board for three and a half years, until he lost his Monmouthshire council seat last year. The board, made up of landowners and local councillors, is financed predominantly by Monmouthshire, Newport and Cardiff councils and manages the drainage system on the Gwent Levels.
Mr Harris, 59, claims he first raised concerns with the board in December 2010.
He told the Argus: "Two years ago there was a trip to Northern Ireland. On reflection I saw no real value for the public purse.
“The procurement of equipment was the same sort of story. The board would send members to Italy when the equipment could just as easily be bought in Britain.
“I made my concerns known and I called for two independent reviews, calls which were ignored.
“They wanted me removed from the board because I raised too many issues.”
Richard Penn, general manager of Caldicot and Wentlooge Drainage Board, said: “Mr Harris has raised a lot of issues, and they were all dealt with at great expense by the board. He asked many questions, raised a lot of issues, he made many accusations, none of which he ever provided any evidence for.”
Failings’ by Welsh public body could lead to an inquiry
THE chairman of the National Assembly for Wales’ Public Accounts Committee, Darren Millar, said yesterday: “The findings of the Wales Audit Office are very concerning. They highlight a number of failings by a publiclyfunded body which has fallen well short of the standards expected of it.
“While the Wales Audit Office recognises that progress is already being made to restore public confidence, it is critical that the failings identified in the report are prevented from happening elsewhere in the Welsh public sector. I will be consulting with committee colleagues regarding a potential inquiry into this matter.”