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Thursday, October 02, 2008

Bizarre goings on over the WMC

The Auditor General's report on the Wales Millennium Centre reveals some very major weaknesses in the way that the Assembly Government has managed its huge investment in the facility. In particular, Ministers and officials failed to keep an eye on the business risks once it opened:

Mr Colman said: “The Wales Millennium Centre was a high-risk, complex project, and although the public bodies funding it followed good practice in many areas, particularly through joint monitoring, there were some fundamental weaknesses.

“The project would have been better served if the Welsh Assembly Government had paid equal attention to addressing the risks involved in funding a successful business as they did to addressing the risks in funding the construction.”

He said the Assembly Government had failed to keep up-to-date records on the WMC’s performance. He added: “The civil servants took a view the material they would otherwise have to hold was commercially sensitive and therefore was at risk of having to be disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act if anyone asked for it.

“Well, we think that is an extremely bad reason for not keeping proper records; an extremely bad reason for not carrying out effective monitoring.

This report states: “Although officials told us that they could access records held at the WMC on request, we have seen no evidence that they did so.”

The fact that officials failed to keep proper records because they were afraid of the Freedom of Information Act is just bizarre. How many other projects are they taking the same approach to? We need some answers.

What was equally bizarre was the performance of the former Culture Minister, Alun Pugh on the radio this morning. As far as he is concerned it was all the fault of his predecessor, Welsh Liberal Democrat AM, Jenny Randerson. He pointed out quite correctly that the centre's original business plan underestimated the cost of running the facility.

Putting aside the issues of collective responsibility which makes the Labour Ministers at the time as equally culpable for this business plan, any proper examination of the facts reveal that Mr. Pugh is being fairly conservative in his choice of facts.

The business plan was very clear in saying that although it contained an estimate of costs it was impossible to accurately predict what they would be until the centre had opened and been in operation for a few years. At that point it was down to the government and the WMC to adjust their calculations and take the appropriate action. It seems that this decision was put off until this year, after Mr. Pugh had lost his seat.

It is also worth pointing out that the business plan was remarkably accurate in predicting revenue, something that many other business plans for similar projects have failed to replicate. Furthermore, the part of the WMC Jenny Randerson was directly responsible for, namely its construction, is highlighted as an area of good practice.

The Centre opened in November 2004, over a year and a half after Jenny Randerson had ceased to be Culture Minister. Alun Pugh had had ample time to get his feet under the table by then and sort out any problems he may have inherited. According to the auditor's report he clearly failed to do so. Instead he has tried to pass the buck, something that does him no credit at all.
Passing the buck and not doing his job as he was paid to do somes up this chap. Cannot bother to answer complaints, sweep it under the carpet. You are right that he did have ample time to amend any misgivings or projections of the WMC.
if jenny had done her job properly this wouldnt have been an issue!

could affect her leadership credentials
You need to re-read this post. She did do her job properly. The cock-up happened on Alun Pugh's watch.
If this doesn't spark a shake-up at WMC, who knows what will.

Its credentials as an arts venue for Wales are consistently undermined by its reliance on half-baked West End shows to fill the seats - if it's going to ignore Welsh arts talent during high-season, it at least needs proper fiscal management.
everyone seems to be missing the point that that the chief problem with the centre is that it simply HAS Never had enough visitors ie paying customers!!!!!

If my local cinema was struggling to get punters in i wouldnt expect the welsh govt to step in and bail it out with huge handouts

When leading welsh football clubs have faced financial disaster i dont recall a culture minister stepping in with a huge handout from the public purse

So what's so different bout the millenium centre? Can it be the sometimes near 'incestous' relationships that appears to exist between the elites in the arts, politics and the media in wales? Well if certain sections of the crachach want to give this cultural white elephant a huge sub then let them pay for it!

Or is wales being host to a grand and costly experiment in 'state culture'?

A reasonable point though in the context that every theatre in Wales is, I believe, subsidised in one way or another I think expecting the WMC to be different is a bit naive.
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