Page last updated at 05:51 GMT, Monday, 12 October 2009 06:51 UK

Auditors inspect community scheme

Council housing Plas Madoc
Plas Madoc is among the top 10% of the most deprived areas in Wales

A community scheme to regenerate one of Wales' most deprived estates is being investigated over concerns about the way it is being run.

Plas Madoc Communities First in Wrexham has received millions of pounds of public money since 2001.

BBC Radio Wales' Eye on Wales has found the Wales Audit Office has now launched an inquiry over concerns with the scheme's governance and accountability.

The scheme refused to comment on this but highlighted its achievements.

The Communities First scheme in Plas Madoc, launched in 2001, aimed to regenerate Wales' poorest areas "from the bottom up" by empowering local people to influence how services are delivered.

Plas Madoc is ranked among the top 10% of the most deprived areas in Wales and is one of three Communities First schemes in Wrexham.

While many Communities First groups are run by local authorities or voluntary organisations, the Plas Madoc scheme is independently run as a charity by a board of trustees.

I started to ask for receipts for the money that I was receiving for the work that I was doing, and never got receipts
Mandy Bostwick, community councillor

Among those who raised concerns was Mandy Bostwick, a psychotherapist and community councillor for Coedpoeth, Wrexham, who provided counselling services at Plas Madoc.

Mrs Bostwick said: "I started to have some concerns about the way they were operating after I attended a staff meeting. I started to realise… that it was the same residents connected to the project - I never saw any new faces.

"I started to hear about people being paid cash. I certainly received cash payment, a nominal fee, and I started to ask for receipts for the money that I was receiving for the work that I was doing, and never got receipts."

On the advice of Communities First officials in north Wales, Mrs Bostwick raised her concerns with Plas Madoc's trustees. Subsequently the team stopped using her services.

Her complaints about the running of the scheme are now being investigated by the Wales Audit Office.

Others who have raised concerns include a former trustee of the scheme and the Association of Voluntary Organisations in Wrexham.

Plas Madoc Estate near Wrexham
The Plas Madoc scheme is independently run as a charity

Wrexham County Borough Council confirmed they had withdrawn their youth support workers from the Venue, Plas Madoc's youth centre, where they worked in partnership with Communities First staff.

The authority has also sought assurances from the scheme about Criminal Records Bureau checks for its staff and volunteers.

A spokeswoman for the Wales Audit Office confirmed auditors have visited Plas Madoc Communities First.

"Welsh Assembly Government officials will be presented with the interim findings of this investigation later this month and will decide what actions are needed," she said.

Plas Madoc Communities First declined to comment while the inquiry is ongoing but highlighted their achievements, including childcare services, a community safety group and new health and social care facilities.

The assembly's audit committee will this week begin an inquiry into the wider Communities First programme following a report from the Auditor General for Wales, Jeremy Coleman, highlighting "serious weaknesses" in its management and monitoring.

The assembly has invested £214m in Communities First since 2001.

Eye on Wales is broadcast on BBC Radio Wales on Monday at 1830 BST.

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