Page last updated at 06:00 GMT, Monday, 12 April 2010 07:00 UK

Election row over assembly government tourism grants

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Ministers say they 'followed grant rules' with the funding annoucnement

Welsh Assembly Government ministers are being accused of "abuse of position" by announcing £17.5m in tourism grants during the general election campaign.

Welsh Conservative leader Nick Bourne says Heritage Minister Alun Ffred Jones and Environment Minster Jane Davidson must "face questions".

But the two ministers insisted they are following rules on announcements during a Westminster election.

The money will fund schemes in Swansea Bay, Pembrokeshire and Gwynedd.

The grants include three new visitor centres, including one at Aberdaron on the Llŷn Peninsula and new facilities at Dale, Porthgain and Coppett Hall in Pembrokeshire.

Ministers said the centres will provide top-class, environmentally friendly facilities for people to enjoy the coast by foot or water and experience water sports.

But Mr Bourne has accused the Plaid Cymru and Labour ministers of using their roles in the assembly government to try and influence voters in the run-up to the May 6 election.

The Welsh Assembly Government's cabinet agreed rules earlier this year for handling announcements from ministers in Cardiff Bay during the general election period.

The rules state:"We will need to continue to announce and present our policies to the public during the campaign.

"But, again, we should not allow this activity to be construed as being party-political. We do not necessarily need to postpone valid publicity activity.

"However, care should be taken if announcements are likely to impact on, or draw attention in, a particular constituency, especially if it is marginal."

A spokesman said Monday's announcement fully complied with this advice, and had been cleared with the most senior official within the assembly government, the permanent secretary.

Porthcawl
Porthcawl would host an 'adrenalin coast' festival as part of the scheme

The heritage minister was launching the funding at an event in Aberdaron in Llŷn, Gwynedd.

Mr Jones said: "The three centres will provide top class facilities to improve the visitor experience of Wales' outstanding coast and help showcase what Wales has to offer to visitors.

"For example, in Aberdaron the centre will act as focal point for visitors to enjoy other parts of the Llŷn Peninsula and Snowdonia, while the centres in Swansea and Pembrokeshire will provide facilities for tourists to make the most of our superb coastline on the water."

But Mr Bourne argued: "Plaid Cymru and Labour are blatantly using their roles in the assembly government to try and influence voters in the run-up to May 6.

Ministers say they 'followed grant rules' with the funding annoucnement

"I intend to refer this shameful abuse of position to the Permanent Secretary for possible breach of the ministerial code during an election period.

Promoting Wales

"While no-one is suggesting Labour or Plaid are trying to buy votes with taxpayers' money - they cannot seriously expect to get away with this without having to face questions about the real motivation behind and timing of this announcement."

Liberal Democrat heritage spokeswoman Eleanor Burnham said: "While this money for coastal tourism projects is welcomed, the timing of this announcement is blatant electioneering from the Labour-Plaid government.

"Why have they waited until the election to announce this money? People will see straight though this stunt and the Labour and Plaid Cymru government should have more respect for the people of Wales.

"Their votes cannot be bought by electioneering stunts like this."

A Welsh Assembly Government spokesman said: "The announcement of these projects is a joint one between the heritage minister and the environment minister.

"It fully complies with the election period advice given to the cabinet and Welsh ministers and was cleared in the usual way.

"Just as routine UK government business doesn't stop during an assembly election, Welsh Assembly Government activity does not come to a halt during a UK general election.

"This is an important announcement that promotes tourism in Wales and will improve visitors experience of our unique coastline. It will also provide top-class, environmentally friendly facilities for people to enjoy the coast by foot or water and experience water sports."

BBC Cymru Wales' first town hall televised debate will be shown on Monday. Election 2010: Wales Debates, recorded at Flint Town Hall, is on BBC One Wales at 2245 BST.



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