A new report by the Auditor General for Wales, the independent statutory external auditor of the devolved Welsh public sector has concluded that on the key aspects of the design, operation and oversight of the Welsh Government’s Rural Development Fund that processes and evaluation were not effective enough and that officials should improve controls for awarding rural development funding.
The Auditor General, Adrian Crompton concluded:
“My report has found that the Welsh Government awarded £53 million of grant funding with insufficient regard to ensuring value for money.”
The report identified that between January 2016 and January 2019 the Welsh Government adopted an approach of granting funds without competition and, in some cases, without taking any alternative steps to ensure the projects would deliver value for money.
Grants are usually awarded to projects following a process of an open competition between applications, which helps to ensure the best projects receive funding.
£68 million of the Rural Development Fund grants were awarded through a process of ‘direct applications’, where officials invited applications for funds without competition. Auditors examined £59 million of these grants and found that the Welsh Government was unable to provide any evidence that it had taken appropriate steps to ensure value for money in the absence of competition for £28 million of the funding awarded.
The report then goes on to say that the programme also included a further £62 million of additional funding awarded to existing projects. Of that total, £30 million were checked and for £25 million of these awards, there was no evidence of proper checks being made before the additional funds were awarded.
Audit Wales, therefore, concluded that grants totalling at least £53 million (£28 million of direct applications and £25 million of additional awards) were awarded by the Welsh Government without taking steps to ensure these funds would deliver value for money
Speaking about the report Adrian Crompton said :
“My recommendations are intended to strengthen controls so that all Rural Development grants are well-governed and likely to deliver value for money, particularly where awards are made without competition.”
He added :
“Tax-payers need confidence in their government’s use of public funds. Applying the principles of good governance, value for money and sustainability is fundamental in creating and preserving this confidence. Where management processes and checks for making grant awards are relaxed or neglected, then unless the resulting risks are managed properly, delivering a successful outcome could be more the product of luck than sound judgement, and the likelihood of wasting public money is increased.”
Several recommendations for improvements were identified, including:
Strengthening controls for appropriate oversight, review and challenge;
Improving officials’ recording of judgements, actions and decisions so they can demonstrate compliance with controls; and
When awarding additional funding to existing projects, the Welsh Government needs to evaluate the delivery track records of those projects.
Pic. Senedd Cymru