A NORTH Wales Assembly Member is calling for an independent inquiry into Communities First following the damning audit report into its project at Plas Madoc, near Wrexham.

During an Assembly session Shadow Social Justice Minister Mark Isherwood said: “With almost a quarter of a billion pounds spent to date and as public services in Wales face big cuts, the people of Wales will hold this Welsh Government in contempt if they do not instigate an independent inquiry.

“With growing allegations regarding other Communities First areas and claims that the Welsh Government has now been forced to launch investigations elsewhere, the independent inquiry required must look at the internal controls across the programme and not just at Plas Madoc Communities First.”

He added: “The day after the Minister’s statement on Plas Madoc Communities First last week, the Wales Audit Office report was published, and it was even worse than we had been led to expect.

“It revealed the Welsh Government had been alerted to problems at Plas Madoc Communities First partnership as long ago as 2003.

“It highlighted governance and accountability issues in 2003 and revealed fault in the Welsh Government because its internal controls were not properly set up at the outset.

“It revealed that people were not properly qualified and that, because the Welsh Government did not have proper procedures in place, nor did Communities First.

“It said that the complaints flagged up related to previous Ministers responsible, including two current members of this Welsh Government.”

In reply, Jane Hutt, Minister for Business and Budget, said: “On Plas Madoc and Communities First, as the Minister for Social Justice and Local Government has said, not only in the chamber but also in committee, we deplore the actions that have led to public funds being diverted from their intended purpose.

“The matter has been referred to North Wales Police to consider the possibility of criminal activity.

“You will be aware that the Minister for Social Justice has already put in place work to improve the governance of the Communities First programme, and he has indicated that substantial new funding will not be allocated to partnerships until they have demonstrated that their financial practices are robust.”