Inquiry Call Into Minister’s Grants

A political row has blown up over the awarding of research grants by Assembly social justice minister Edwina Hart’s department to an academic team which includes a close party ally. Plaid Cymru’s shadow social justice minister Leanne Wood has called for a top-level investigation into her concerns about contracts awarded to the University of Glamorgan’s Welsh Institute of Health and Social Care. The Institute’s senior fellow is Tony Beddow, chair of Swansea County Labour Party and former chair of Ms Hart’s own Gower constituency party. An Assembly Government spokeswoman has angrily rejected Ms Wood’s allegations, saying all the contracts had been awarded in line with correct procedures.

In total, the Institute has received £141,871 in grants from Mrs Hart’s department alone – each research project is listed by the university as being ‘linked’ to Mr Beddow. The Institute has also received a further £355,400 in grants from Government bodies since Labour came to power in 1997.

Ms Wood has written to Sir Jon Shortridge, the permanent secretary at the Assembly, requesting that he investigate the way grants have been awarded.

Ms Wood said: “‘This information raises important questions about the way in which the minister has been handling grants. That is why I have asked for an urgent investigation, so that the matter can be cleared up.

“Grants of such significant amounts of public money should be subject to an open and transparent bidding process. The fact that nearly half a million pounds of grants have been awarded by Welsh government bodies to the unit will naturally lead to concerns.

“I hope that there will be a serious look into this matter and that the Government will review the way it hands out grants in the future.”

Plaid also claims the information provided to Ms Wood by the minister was not complete. The Plaid AM had asked the minister to, ‘list the people… she has employed to conduct… studies of substance misuse projects’, but the minister listed only one grant of £45,000 to the Institute. Further Plaid research revealed that another grant of £36,620 was awarded to the unit in 2005 to study substance misuse services in Wales.

Ms Wood said: “I am very concerned by what looks like a deliberate attempt by the government to conceal information. This is taxpayers’ money and people deserve to know how their money is being spent.”

But an Assembly Government spokeswoman said: “‘Leanne Wood’s suggestions are disgraceful. These assertions are, at the very least, misleading and are not based on facts. The social justice minister was not involved at any stage in the awarding of the contracts. The letting of all contracts for work on the substance misuse agenda followed a proper procurement process, which is transparent in terms of accountability. This process was managed by various officials.

“The Welsh Institute of Health and Social Care is only one of a number of contractors who have successfully bid for work on the substance misuse agenda over the past few years. All were awarded contracts following a strict and scrupulous tendering process.

“In her question, Leanne Wood asked the minister to list the people, consultants and/or firms employed to conduct evaluations, reviews, assessments or any other kind of substance misuse projects since 1999. The minister provided her with this information.

“The Welsh Institute of Health and Social Care and other contractors have bid for other work, such as development of detailed policy guidance or training needs of partners. This was not included in the minister’s response, because this was not what Leanne Wood asked her.”

But Plaid refused to back down, pointing out that Ms Wood’s question had specifically asked Mrs Hart to list contracts she had awarded. A Plaid spokesman said: “This seems to be an attempt on the part of the Assembly Government to avoid ministerial responsibility for actions taken in her name.”