Senior civil servants in Wales have been criticised by the Welsh Public Accounts Committee over their botched handling of financial affairs surrounding the failed £433M Circuit of Wales.
The committee said the officials made “inexplicable decisions” about the spending and authorised £9M initial investment, but it’s unlikely to see £7.3M returned as the developers have taken legal steps to protect themselves from liquidation. They had wanted about £200M from Welsh Government.
The civil servants also failed to keep Government ministers informed about the progress of the investment and its spending, including a £42,500 monthly payment for consultancy services to Mr Michael Carrick, boss of Aventa Capital Partners and also the man behind the Heads of the Valleys Development Company which secured the initial investment from Welsh Government. He had used some money to develop his home garden and £300,000 to buy a Buckinghamshire motor-cycle firm which failed.
The senior Welsh Government civil servant dealing with the project and the officers was James Price, then deputy permanent secretary at the economy department with a salary of over £135,000 a year.
About the same time last June as Welsh Government showed the chequered flag to Circuit of Wales, he was moved sideways to become chief executive of Transport for Wales running the £5 Billion Metro development,with electrification of the Valleys Lines, and Wales and Borders rail franchise.
Ministers have hinted that Transport for Wales will ultimately oversee major road schemes and bus regulation as well as other devolved transport powers.
Yesterday, the Public accounts committee chairman Nick Ramsay said the public were “misled” over the Circuit of Wales project and wants spending controls tightened. The Welsh Government said it recognised there were “lessons to be learnt”.
Welsh Conservatives have called for clear and “robust” action from the First Minister to ensure that mistakes are not repeated and called on those responsible to “pay the price” for failure.
The First Minister gave no assurances that sanctions would be taken against officials found to have been responsible for the failures identified in the report.
Assembly Conservatives leader Mr Andrew R T Davies said, “The Circuit of Wales project was handled appallingly, wasting millions of pounds in taxpayer’s money – and once again missing a key opportunity to regenerate a deprived part of Wales.
“The cornerstone of any effective democracy is ministerial oversight – yet this seems to be horribly lacking in this case. Instead, the report paints a picture of a department in chaos, with officials effectively running the show and taking key decisions without ministerial approval.”
He added, “Worryingly, there appears to be a culture of recycling and rewarding failure, and the First Minister needs to take robust and effective action to ensure that this never happens again.
“People have to pay the price for failure, not rewarded for incompetence with promotion. The people of Blaenau Gwent were horribly let down here and in any other walk of life those responsible for overseeing this shambles would be forced to walk.”