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Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Culturenet Cymru and those 100 Welsh heroes

The controversy surrounding the 100 Welsh Heroes Internet poll continues to trundle on. After protracted correspondence and having tabled a number of questions I received the first acknowledgement yesterday that the Welsh Assembly Government is taking the issue seriously.

I had a letter from the Minister for Culture, Welsh Language and Sport in which he assured me that he has "taken the allegations made against Culturenet Cymru very seriously." He went on: "I should point out that at no time have I said that I am not prepared to investigate these matters; rather I said that because Culturenet Cymru was taking legal advice, it would be inappropriate for me to offer any further comment at that stage."

"From the outset my officials have been in contact with the Chair of Culturenet Cymru to establish whether there was any truth behind the allegations, to seek assurances that proper procedures were followed in conducting its business and that public money was spent in an appropriate way. Officials monitor the body’s financial activities on a monthly basis."

"Since I last wrote to you, officials have sought further clarification from the Chair of Culturenet as to the basis on which he had given assurances that the allegations made against Culturenet were without foundation."

"The Chair set out clearly the nature of the legal advice received. Culturenet Cymru received legal advice that articles in the press could be regarded as defamatory, but that Culturenet Cymru’s resources, which are derived from public funds, should not be spent on legal action unless there was no choice. Since it is possible that further claims may be made in public in future, Culturenet Cymru reserves the right to take legal advice again."

"The Chair has also set out the process he followed to assure himself that the accusations that the 100 Welsh Heroes poll was manipulated were unfounded, and that Culturenet Cymru had not misused public funds."

"The Assembly’s Internal Audit Department has been involved and is satisfied that no further investigation is required. I share that view."

I have now written back to the Minister asking to see the assurances given to him by the Chair so that I can make my own judgement. I am still awaiting a copy of all correspondence, e-mails and notes of phone calls between officials and Culturenet Cymru on this issue.

Although the Minister now seems to be responding more rationally to my enquiries the same cannot be said of the First Minister yesterday:

Peter Black: As you know, serious accusations have been made that the 100 Welsh heroes poll was fixed to ensure that Aneurin Bevan won. A total of £150,000 of public money was spent on the poll and yet, thus far, Culturenet Cymru has hidden behind legal threats to avoid scrutiny. Do you believe that that is the proper way for a publicly funded body to behave? Will you undertake today to publish in full the details of all the investigations carried out by the Minister for Culture, Welsh Language and Sport into the allegations so that we can make our own judgment on them?

The First Minister: That is so over the top that I think that you will be deeply ashamed when you read the Record tomorrow. The only evidence that any of us is aware of regarding attempts to fix the Culturenet Cymru 100 Welsh heroes poll is the admission by a prominent member of the pro-Owain-Glyndwr campaign, who worked in the public sector for the National Museums and Galleries of Wales, as I recall, that he e-mailed all his friends—and it was a public sector e-mail, as I recall—telling them that Owain Glyndwr was behind Aneurin Bevan and asking them get their vote, or multiple votes, in for him. That is the only evidence that we have.

You will be aware that an information technology manager sacked for gross misconduct has made many allegations. However, that is not uncommon after someone has been sacked for that reason. There is no basis for saying anything other than that Culturenet Cymru has received legal advice and has been told that some of the allegations are potentially defamatory but that pursuing them would be a waste of public money.

Rhodri Morgan’s answer was so off the wall that it is untrue. He seems to believe that this issue is being used as a stick to beat his Government with. Nothing could be further from the truth. As far as I am concerned these accusations have nothing to do with the conduct of Ministers. Indeed if the Assembly Government stepped in and publicly sorted it out then they should gain nothing but credit from those actions.

If however, Ministers start to obstruct the process of getting at the truth then they do become implicated. That has not happened yet but I am prepared to involve the National Audit Office if need be to ensure that these allegations are fully and publicly answered.

Dear oh dear. All Alan Pugh needs to do is ask for a copy of the database - or to make it available to his staff or others who might be able to make sense of it.

The Chair has also set out the process he followed to assure himself that the accusations that the 100 Welsh Heroes poll was manipulated were unfounded, and that Culturenet Cymru had not misused public fundsWell could he share that process with the rest of us, perhaps? If this is how the Assembly's Internal Audit Dept. works it looks like there are bigger problems than just the 100 Welsh Heroes Poll.
Peter - I'd like to contact the National Audit Office myself straight away. I have asked Alan Pugh's staff what my next action should be to take this further but they haven't bothered to tell me about this possible course of action.

I'm troubled that the Welsh Assembly is content with this assurance from the Chair of Culturenet Cymru, Andrew Green.

I know the 100 Welsh Heroes poll was rigged, I wrote the program that fiddled the figures and I ran it every week at the request of Marketing. This ongoing denial is silly.

Could you let me know how I should go about contacting the National Audit Office and making a forml complaint or request for investigation or whatever they may do?
I think that in the circumstances it is best if I contact the National Audit Office once I have had an answer from the Minister to my latest letter. Can I suggest that if you want to discuss this we take it to e-mail. Thanks
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