AN OFFICIAL probe has highlighted “deplorable” shortfalls in the way cash for a much-needed Wrexham community fund has been managed.
The long-awaited document has identified “serious and widespread weaknesses in financial control and governance” in the Plas Madoc Communities First Partnership.
In the wake of a damning report by the Assembly Government Internal Audit Service, Wales’ Social Justice and Local Government Minister Carl Sargeant is taking steps to ensure “robust” arrangements are in place to manage a scheme serving one of the most deprived areas of Wales.
Yesterday Mr Sargeant said he was making a statement ahead of its publication to quash “mischievous and unfounded speculation” that the report signals the end of the Communities First programme which aims to regenerate Plas Madoc.
An Assembly Government spokesman said she could not say whether any prosecutions were likely to follow.
Mr Sargeant, AM for Alyn and Deeside, said: “I deplore both the deliberate actions and the omissions of oversight and stewardship which have led to public funds being diverted from the overall intended purpose of the programme.”
He added: “The audit report makes disturbing reading. It identifies serious and widespread weaknesses in financial control and governance within the Plas Madoc partnership.
“I have already taken action to initiate a programme of detailed audit and inspection of partnerships to ensure appropriate governance arrangements are in place in other Communities First Partnerships.”
He added: “While I am sure others will wish to join with me in condemning the behaviour of those that have put personal gain above the benefit intended for local people in one of the most deprived communities in Wales, these failings must be put into context.
“Plas Madoc is one of 157 Communities First partnerships across Wales.
“Of the total of £47 million invested in Communities First during the current financial year, £480,000 has gone to Plas Madoc.
“The majority of the funding received by Plas Madoc has been used for its intended purpose.
“A wide range of important services have been delivered to the local community, including support for children and young people.
“In general, these services have been provided to a high standard and are valued by the community. I am anxious that these services continue to be delivered.”
The Minister stressed “failings” in Plas Madoc should nor undermine the good work many Communities First Partnerships were doing across Wales.
North Wales AM Janet Ryder welcomed the Minister’s condemnation of a “deplorable” misuse of public funding at Plas Madoc and praised the “whistleblower” who exposed misuse of public funding as well as residents who challenged Plas Madoc Communities First officers.
She told the Leader: “I would like to see those services which are valued by local people on Plas Madoc continue.
“I also welcome further work being carried out to strengthen financial and governance arrangements in partnerships.”
She challenged the Minister to democratise the Communities First scheme to ensure local people had a far greater input into the decision-making process.
Clwyd South AM Karen Sinclair said: “I was one of a number of individuals to highlight major general concerns at a Ministerial level about significant problems with the Plas Madoc Communities First project. This cannot be allowed to happen again.
“Over the years the Assembly Government has chosen not to grasp the nettle on this issue, but today I am glad the new Minister has shown he shares the concerns I have.
“Plas Madoc is one of the most deprived wards in Wales and this unfortunate series of events has certainly impacted on the significant transformational opportunity Communities First offered to the area.”
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