Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Holding people to account

Column in the Llanelli Herald on October 13th

As a member of the Assembly’s powerful Public Accounts Committee I get to put Wales’ leading decision-makers on the spot.

This week I got a chance to scrutinise the Chief Executive of Sports Wales. Wales being a small country, I know her a little from my last job and I hold her in high regard. But she was before me to account for her organisation’s performance over the last year and this wasn’t personal

In the last 12 months Sports Wales has seen its Chair and Vice-Chair sacked after a boardroom revolt, and a critical internal audit report warning the Chief Executive that she risked damaging the reputation of the organisation over the handling of contracts. There were tough questions to be asked. You can watch the encounter online the Senedd TV website.

But as well as the obvious questions one issue that has had a direct consequence here in Llanelli occupied my mind.

Over the last couple of years the future of our local football pitches has been in the headlines. Under pressure to make cuts the Council (when Labour was in charge) sought to put up the fees clubs pay to use the fields, and now (under Plaid) they are being hived-off to anyone who’ll have them to spare the Council the costs of maintenance.

Local clubs say they can’t afford the upkeep and warn clubs will fold, and say the fields will fall into disrepair, making them prime targets for house builders.  Meanwhile, as we’re seeing in Llanerch, the loss of green space is being compensated for by new all-weather 3G pitches - better when it's raining, but they are very expensive to maintain and there’s a real risk they’ll be out of reach to the local clubs: and of no use for informal kick-abouts.

I asked the Chief Executive of Sports Wales whether she was concerned about this and whether fewer people would have access to facilities as a result. Yes, she said, she was concerned. Will Sports Wales be monitoring the situation to test whether it will result in fewer people having opportunities to take part, I asked? Well, we could, she said. I know you could, I said, but are you planning to? No, she said.

I think that may change as a result of the hearing.

The Welsh Government is giving the Council a lot of money for sport development but it goes into staff who work on the 5x60 and Dragon Sports initiatives. Surely this money is being evaluated to see whether this is an effective approach, I asked. Erm, no, she said.

For 15 years, I was told, Millions have been spent on these projects and there is no independent evaluation of whether this is the most effective way to spend the money. I think that may change as a result of the hearing too.

I’ll be coming back to the issue. But this work on Assembly committees - largely hidden from the public eye, can make a difference. And I’ll keep on asking awkward questions.

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