Mismanagement of public accounts has cost the people of Wales

Published 27/03/2023   |   Last Updated 27/03/2023   |   Reading Time minutes

Significant funds for essential public services have been lost due to shortcomings in the Welsh Government’s accounting, according to a Senedd Committee.

A report published today by the Senedd’s Public Accounts and Public Administration Committee (PAPAC) has raised a number of issues with the accounts for 2020/2021.

  • £155.5 million was lost to Wales due to poor account management
  • Serious concerns about record keeping relating to £80,000 payment made to the former Permanent Secretary
  • The current Permanent Secretary’s salary exceeds the advertised amount
  • Concerns about the level of fraud and error in the COVID-19 business grants scheme

Welsh Government £155.5 million underspend

Today’s report notes the Committee’s disappointment that significant funding was lost to Wales as a result of the Welsh Government’s underspend in 2020-21.

A total of £155.5 million could have been utilised to fund essential public services in Wales – at a time when there are serious pressures on public funding.

This figure is the result of the difference between the balance of the Wales Reserve on 1 April 2021 - £505.5 million – and the Wales Reserve’s limit of £350 million. The Welsh Government said the Chief Secretary to the Treasury had rejected its request to carry forward funds in excess of the Wales Reserve limit.

It is equivalent to around two-thirds of the revenue raised from putting 1p on each of the Welsh rates of income tax.

The Committee found it difficult to understand why the Welsh Government waited so long to be told it could not do as it wished with the underspend, and why such a request was made retrospectively. The Welsh Government appears to have assumed, based on previous HM Treasury decisions, that it would be granted flexibility to use the funding.

It raises questions as to whether making a request sooner may have enabled the funds to be used. The Committee said lessons must be learnt to ensure such vital funding is not lost from Wales again.

Chair of the PAPAC, Mark Isherwood MS, says;

“Our report highlights a number of serious issues within the Welsh Government’s Consolidated Accounts 2020-21, which was not only significantly delayed and signed nine months later than the timetable originally agreed, but qualified by the Auditor General on three separate issues.

“We are very concerned that significant funding was lost to Wales as a result of the underspend in 2020-21. This money could have been used to fund essential services and it is especially frustrating now when there are such pressures on public funding.

“It is one of many examples where poor record keeping and mismanagement of public accounts has cost the people of Wales.”

Arrangements surrounding current and former Permanent Secretaries

A payment made to the former Permanent Secretary, and arrangements around the current Permanent Secretary’s salary, raise a number of issues regarding the documentation of decision making and record keeping by the Welsh Government.

A payment of £80,519 was made to the former Permanent Secretary on her departure.  This included £31,843 as payment in lieu of notice, £9,553 in unused annual leave and an extra-contractual payment of £39,123.

The Committee is concerned that deficient record-keeping about how important decisions were taken resulted in a lack of clarity and insufficient opportunity for this Committee to scrutinise this payment, and that Welsh Government did not provide the Auditor General with sufficient contemporaneous evidence to establish the change in the former Permanent Secretary’s working arrangements and to justify the payment made on her departure.

The report also details concerns about the process of appointing the current Permanent Secretary. In September 2021, the Welsh Government announced the appointment of Dr Andrew Goodall, who had since 2014 been seconded to the Welsh Government from the Aneurin Bevan University Health Board (ABUHB).

The post had been advertised with a salary between £162,500 and £180,000, but Dr Goodall confirmed after his appointment that he remained on the NHS chief executive pay framework – meaning his current salary exceeds the advertised salary.

This raises the question of whether the Welsh Government may have attracted different candidates had the post been advertised at a higher pay scale.

The report recommends that the Welsh Government review its reporting and record-keeping practices to ensure that internal decisions around the Permanent Secretary role, along with any other roles at Director General level or above, are clearly documented.

The 17 recommendations made in the report aims to tackle the poor recording keeping which came to light during the Committee’s inquiry.

The full report is available here.