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Friday, 8 March, 2002, 17:07 GMT
Change of tune over orchestra cash
Orchestra conductor
Critics say orchestra funding bypassed usual routes
The Welsh Assembly's Culture Minister has made a policy U-turn over the funding of a new national orchestra paid for directly from Cardiff Bay.

Jenny Randerson said the new musical body would receive only 20,000 from the assembly towards its start-up costs instead of the 150,000 orginally announced.


At best, we can say this is a procedural irregularity - at worst it's deeply suspicious

Jonathan Morgan AM, Conservative, South Wales Central

The axe was wielded after it emerged that the funding - announced by the assembly's Finance Minister Edwina Hart last November - had bypassed the usual mechanisms for distributing cash to arts bodies in Wales.

Opposition parties and the Arts Council for Wales are calling for an explanation of how Ms Hart came to back the scheme which could benefit some of her constituents, including people she says she knew personally from her days in the National Youth Orchestra of Wales.

The original announcement by Ms Hart - made during her autumn budget statement - came as a surprise to AMs.

She said an annual 150,000 grant would be made available to fund "a chamber orchestra for Wales" and to make chamber music "more accessible to communities."

Edwina Hart
Critics are rounding on minister Ms Hart
The orchestra made its debut performance in front of fewer than 100 people - including Ms Hart - on Tuesday.

The politician responsible for arts policy in Wales, Culture Minister Jenny Randerson, has since defended the decision to fund the Welsh orchestra directly.

She also said she intends starting to fund more arts organisations in the same manner.

But a spokesman for the assembly government has said the money was for the development of chamber music across Wales.

He said the Chamber Orchestra of Wales would receive only 20,000 for set-up costs in 2002-03.

Culture Minister Jenny Randerson
Jenny Randerson had said other groups could apply

The Lord Mayor of Swansea, Robert Francis Davies, has said the decision had more to do with playing politics in Cardiff than promoting culture in Wales.

But critics complain that the project:

  • Was never scrutinised by the culture committee
  • Had not been announced by Culture, Language and Sport Minister Jenny Randerson
  • Did not come from the body charged with distributing public money to worthy arts projects
  • Did not feature in Mrs Randerson's culture review, 'A Culture In Common,' or her subsequent national strategy

The Arts Council of Wales has long held aspired to creating a national chamber orchestra.

But council member Geraint Lewis told BBC Radio Wales: "Public funding for any major institution has to go through tendering and be seen to be accountable.

"The culture committee should investigate to see why the money was taken from a budget other than the culture budget, where the money came from, where the decision was made and why the procedures were not taken through traditional methods.

"Until recently, there was absolutely no extra funding available for this.

"Policy is being made up without any reference to the appropriate committee and there is some kind of constituency link here."

Ms Hart is facing allegations of favouritism as she is the AM for the neighbouring constituency of Gower.

Favouritsm allegations

The project is run by former Swansea County Council employee Gruff Harries.

He told BBC Wales he was simply a "lucky recipient" after submitting a detailed business plan to the assembly.

Plaid Cymru culture spokesman Owen John Thomas said: "It's clearly outside her remit.

"Her interest seems to be geographical as it's near her constituency."

And the Tory AM for South Wales Central, Jonathan Morgan, added: "At best, we can say this is a procedural irregularity - at worst it's deeply suspicious."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Conservative AM, Jonathan Morgan
"Why has Edwina Hart decided to allocate year-on-year budgetary money to an organisation based near her own constituency?"
BBC Wales Political Editor David Williams
"Edwina Hart's caught everyone by surprise"
Geraint Lewis, Arts Council
"Arts policy is just being made up"
See also:

07 Feb 02 | Wales
Strategy to boost arts
25 Feb 02 | Wales
Building begins on arts project
28 Jun 00 | Wales
New arts body on cards
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