Posted: Thu 30th May 2024

Wales Audit Office Chair resigns over conflict of interest

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales

The chair of the Wales Audit Office was forced to stand down 12 months into a four-year term due to a conflict with another appointment, a report revealed.

Kathryn Chamberlain, who was appointed by the Senedd in March 2023, was disqualified from the public spending watchdog’s board after taking a post with the Welsh secretary.

She was appointed lead non-executive director of David TC Davies’ office in January 2024.

But an investigation found the role amounts to a Crown appointment, which Wales Audit Office members are not allowed to hold under the 2013 Public Audit Act.

Dr Chamberlain stayed on the board until mid-April according to a report by the Senedd’s finance committee, which is chaired by Peredur Owen Griffiths.

‘Disqualifying office’

It said: “During March 2024, it came to light that Dr Chamberlain had commenced service as an independent non-executive director at the office of the Secretary of State for Wales.

“Further investigation established this role constitutes an appointment by, or on behalf of, the Crown, which is a disqualifying office under paragraph 26 of Schedule 1 to the 2013 Act.

“As a result, Dr Chamberlain was disqualified as a member and chair of the board, effective from January 1, and was informed of this by the chair of the committee on April 15.”

Mr Owen Griffiths wrote to Adrian Crompton, the auditor general for Wales, and the Wales Audit Office board in May to mitigate the risk of the error being repeated.

Calling for updated training, he reminded non-executive members of the requirements of the 2013 Act which limits the roles that can be undertaken while serving on the board.

‘Unplanned exit’

Mr Owen Griffiths, the Plaid Cymru MS for South Wales East, requested any updates to the registers of interest for board members to be shared with the finance committee in future.

Due to Dr Chamberlain’s unplanned exit, the committee decided to invite members of the current board to express an interest for the position rather than advertise more widely.

The report recommends the Senedd appoints Ian Rees, who was the only applicant, as chair of the Wales Audit Office for four years from June 12.

Dr Rees, an education and training consultant, from Swansea, who has served on the board since 2020, was a member of the Arts Council of Wales for six years.

If rubber stamped, he will receive a £25,000-a-year salary despite concerns this exceeds the range offered by the Welsh Government for similar public appointments within its remit.

‘Oversight’

MSs on the finance committee, whose remit includes oversight of the Wales Audit Office, recommended two further public appointments to fill roles advertised in the first quarter.

Elinor Gwynn’s first term as a board member was due to expire in September but she tendered her resignation and will leave her post on May 31.

A three-person panel, which included Mr Owen Griffiths, considered applications from six women and 19 men before deciding to interview eight candidates.

The panel picked Richard Thurston and Mike Norman as nominees to serve on the board from June 2024 to May 2028. Members may serve a maximum of two four-year terms.

The Senedd is expected to sign off on the public appointments after Whitsun recess.

‘Caught out’

Disqualification rules have caught out would-be Senedd members in the past – with two Liberal Democrats finding themselves in a similar situation after the 2012 election.

Aled Roberts, the former Welsh language commissioner, who died in 2022, was disqualified from the then-Assembly because he was a member of the Valuation Tribunal for Wales.

But the north Walian overturned his disqualification, winning a vote 30-20 in the Senedd, due to outdated Welsh-language guidance issued by the Electoral Commission.

His Lib-Dem colleague John Dixon stood down due to membership of the then-Care Council for Wales, with Eluned Parrott going on to represent South Wales Central instead.

Under forthcoming Senedd reforms, which are set to receive Royal Assent, candidates and members who are not registered to vote in Wales will be disqualified from 2026.

 

By Chris Haines, ICNN Senedd reporter

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