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Last Updated:  Friday, 28 March, 2003, 08:10 GMT
Minister rejects resignation call
Education Minister Jane Davidson
Education Minister Jane Davidson is directly responsible for Elwa
Education Minister Jane Davidson has dismissed calls for her to resign after a Welsh education funding body received heavy criticism.

Elwa, the body which funds training and higher education across Wales, has been pitched into deeper crisis after a damning report was leaked to BBC Wales' Dragon's Eye programme.

The confidential report, written by the Auditor General for Wales Sir John Bourne speaks of "wholesale failures" at the agency and issues which are "of exceptional importance".

Sir John wrote the report for the The National Assembly's influential audit committee, which approved the draft report behind closed doors on Thursday morning and it is not due to be published for some 10 days.

However, speaking live on the programme, Education Minister Jane Davidson refused to answer questions over the leaked report and said she would not resign.

And she said she would only discuss the report when it had been published.

The chair of Elwa's National Council, Enid Rowlands, also told Dragon's Eye she had "no intention of resigning whatsoever".

She said the organisation had achieved nearly all of the targets set for it by the assembly and "exceeded significantly more than was asked of it".

But Plaid Cymru's assembly education spokeswoman Helen Mary Jones condemned the refusals to resign.

"If either of them had just been prepared to say, 'there are problems, we are sorry', one might feel differently, but the arrogance is just stunning," she said.

Conservative AM Jonathan Morgan said the report was not just critical but highly damning, and if it were a private sector organisation, the people responsible would have gone long ago.

Public criticism

Sir John's analysis of how Elwa - Wales' largest government agency - managed its huge 800m annual budget is scathing.

He says its reputation - and by extension that of the assembly itself - has been seriously damaged and speaks of:

  • A fundamental inability to manage several key strategic risks
  • Irregular payments totalling some 2.9m which jeopardised value for money
  • Unacceptable excuses, principally pressure of time
Public criticism of Elwa intensified earlier this year after a BBC Wales investigation into the way Elwa awarded 4m worth of grants to the Pop Factory in the Rhondda.

It was claimed that 1m of the grant was allowed to sit in the company's bank accounts for nearly a year, accruing interest.

It was also claimed not a single job was created.

But Sir John Bourne says that, even at Elwa's inception two years ago, there were "serious shortcomings" - particularly how the handover from the old TEC training agencies was managed.

He talks of a clash of cultures between public and private sectors and says the Audit Commission is "very surprised" key staff were not appraised of public sector duties from the outset.

Worse, he finds the 15 months it took to implement financial controls at Elwa "unacceptable", the awarding of 2.2m in contracts without proper approval "inexcusable", and a gagging clause imposed on 104 redundant employees "entirely inappropriate".

Review promised

Already this week there has been a management shake-up and the role of Elwa's chief executive has been split.

The present incumbent, Steve Martin, will now be solely in charge of Elwa's smaller division, the funding arm for higher education.

But no appointment has yet been announced for the head of the much larger National Council which funds all Wales' training needs and post-16 education.

Earlier on Thursday, Ms Davidson told BBC Wales there would be a root and branch review of the National Council's operations.

"Please don't denigrate the whole organisation on the issues of two financial contracts when what we know is that there is tremendous success in learning opportunities in Wales," she said.




SEE ALSO:
Education shake-up defended
27 Mar 03  |  Wales
Education body to split in two
26 Mar 03  |  Wales
Job cuts threat at Elwa
11 Feb 03  |  Wales
Body's 2.2m unapproved spend
14 Jan 03  |  Wales
College body overhaul on cards
09 Dec 02  |  Wales


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