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Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Defensive spin

Yesterday's Western Mail carried a lead story about the newly appointed Chair of ELWa. The Conservative's Welsh Education Spokesperson, David Davies, had demanded her resignation as she had been a Director of a company that had gone into administration less than six weeks after she resigned. It was the view of David Davies that this made her unsuitable to head up Wales' biggest quango. Actually I do not agree with David on this. Companies go under every day all around Wales for a variety of reasons. Often they do so in circumstances in which money is owed to creditors. In many cases the experience of those involved in that collapse has led them to start again and build bigger, more successful businesses. That is the entrepreneurial spirit that is needed in Wales and is all too often lacking. If we are going to punish failure then there will be nobody willing to take risks.

In the case of Sheila Drury, there was no impropriety and therefore no reason why she should not move on to the post she now holds. Furthermore, according to the account in the Western Mail yesterday, the biggest creditor of the now defunct company, Kemitron, was her and her husband. They lost money as well. This would have been all very well if it was not for the comments of the Assembly Government Spokesperson. In defending the decision he gave a stock answer that implied that all the panel were aware of the full circumstances of Kemitron and its parent company, SJMJ Limited. He also referred to the fact that there was a Welsh Liberal Democrat on that panel. My recollection of this matter was that there was reference in Sheila Drury's application to the fact that she had been a director of a company that had gone into administration shortly after she had left it. She also expounded on how she dealt with the publicity around that issue. However, there were no details made available to panel members about the circumstances of the case as suggested in the officials remarks and I didn't find out about them until afterwards.

I took exception to being drawn into the defensive spin on behalf of the Government and e-mailed the Education Minister immediately to say so. When she had failed to respond to my e-mail by early afternoon I wrote to the Western Mail to set the record straight. This finally provoked a response from the Minister and a conversation over the phone, which in my view amounted to her haranguing me about the literal interpretation of her spokesperson's words. I made it clear that the context of those remarks made them unacceptable to me and that I did not take kindly to being used as part of Government spin without being consulted first. As it happens it is all a big storm in a very small teacup but it does say something about the style of the Welsh Labour Government and the Minister that I was dragged into it in that way.

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