During the First Minister’s Questions at the Senedd today a list of projects where public money has been lost was read out with a question from Natasha Asghar MS. The Welsh Conservative MS began by asking: “How does the Welsh Government ensure that the properties it owns provide best value for the taxpayer?”
Lesley Griffiths MS replied: “We have a clear policy and strategy for acquiring, managing and disposing of property assets. The principal aim is to maximise overall value from our assets. All potential transactions are scrutinised by experienced property professionals to ensure value for money and other public value outcomes are achieved.”
The MS for South Wales East then said that she thought that a lot of people in the Chamber would be interested to know that she recently asked for a list of the land and properties bought by the Welsh Government to facilitate the building of the M4 relief road.
She said that in reply, she was told that 30 properties were bought, at a cost to the taxpayer of over £15 million.
The MS continued: “It is now more than three years since the M4 relief road project was scrapped. Since then, seven of those properties have been sold—three at a profit of £334,000. The other four were sold at a loss of a staggering £925,765. This is in addition to the £157 million spent by your Government on the project before it was cancelled, to the anger and dismay of motorists and businesses across Wales. So, Minister, how do you explain the huge loss from the sale of these properties, and do you agree this is a clear demonstration of the scandalous disregard for obtaining the best value for taxpayers’ money, as exhibited by your Government on numerous previous projects and occasions, such as the Circuit of Wales, Pinewood, Natural Resources Wales timber contracts, the overspend on the Head of the Valleys roads and the propping-up of Cardiff Airport?”
Lesley Griffiths MS responded perhaps in jest: “In the time it has taken you to ask me that question, I would imagine the interest on the debt being accrued by the UK Government would have paid for all those things.”
She continued: “I don’t have a list of the properties and assets that you just read out to me, but what I do know in relation to the M4 relief road is that our policy and strategy for the disposal of surplus property is clear that when it’s no longer required—and obviously some of the properties that you referred to will no longer be required for the purpose that you set out—will be first offered to other departments and then our public sector partners before being marketed commercially. That does ensure we are delivering the best possible value against all policy areas.”