A damning letter from the Environment and Sustainability Committee expressing their "significant concerns about the financial management and planning within the Natural Resources and Food department" has been published today. Extracts of the letter are below.
William Powell, Welsh Liberal Democrat Environment spokesperson, said:
"The evidence provided by the Natural Resources and Food department was late, often contradictory and far from transparent. As a committee, we were unable to scrutinise properly due to the quality of the evidence.
"The Minister's budget included a number of basic errors, such as referring to schemes and policy areas that have ceased to exist. While this is embarrassing and shows a lack of competence, far more worrying was the level of financial management evident in the department as a whole.
"The Minister seemed unable to give sufficient information on a large range of issues, resorting instead to partisan hectoring and references to the Westminster government. Evidence that he did give was often contradictory to what his officials had to say. That just isn't good enough.
"Perhaps if the Minister spent more time treating his position with the professionalism and respect it deserves, rather than engaging in tribal politics, some of these serious concerns might not have arisen.
"Hardworking people who pay their taxes should be able to have faith that the Welsh Government is spending their money responsibly. I'm afraid that, with the quality of evidence we were presented with, this is simply not the case in this department. The people of Wales deserve better.
"There are significant problems in this area that the Welsh Labour Government needs to look at as a matter of urgency. I'm concerned that this mismanagement could potentially undermine confidence and progress in this important portfolio."
Extracts of the letter to the Finance Committee include:
"(The Minister)did not give sufficient information or adequate clarity on a range of issues.
"We noted a number of basic errors.... including references to the True Taste Awards where were disbanded earlier this year, and reference to the Agriculture Wages Board, which has been replaced.
"...there is discrepancy between officials and the Minister about whether or not this shortfall will need to be covered from other areas.
"...problems with the financial planning and management of the department.
"We are dissatisfied that the Minister could not provide absolute clarity about the funding of scheme.
"These concerns all suggest to us that the financial management and planning within (the department) is currently flawed and that is need to improve as a matter of priority.
"...suggests no clear co-ordination between policy development and budget planning.
"Minister was unwilling to confirm whether he had discussions....
"...We are concerned with this inconsistency, and yet again seems to suggest a lack of coherence in the financial planning within this department.
"Minister was not able to identify to the Committee the likely service areas that NRW would need to cut or reduce.
"The Finance Committee may wish to ask the Minister for Finance for her views on the financial management within the portfolio, and if she is confidence that it is robust and fit for purpose."