Minister criticised over AWEMA handling

The Welsh Government has faced severe criticism from opposition parties for its refusal to make a full statement in the Assembly in response to last week's critical report on its supervision of the failed ethnic minority charity AWEMA.

Finance Minister Jane Hutt was forced to respond to an urgent question which was tabled by Lib Dem AM Peter Black but which had the support of the other opposition parties.

But the parties were disappointed by a continued refusal by ministers to make a statement to the Assembly - which would have been accompanied by up to an hour's debate - and also by the decision of the Presiding Officer Rosemary Butler not to allow an Urgent Debate, which would have allowed up to half an hour's discussion.

In the video below you can see the question and the minister's response but first you can see the Presiding Officer explain why she chose to allow an urgent question but not a debate.

Plaid Cymru's Rhodri Glyn Thomas accused the Welsh Government of showing a 'lack of respect' both to the Wales Audit Office and to voluntary organisations who may be worried about the Welsh Government's supervision of them.

He too said there should be a full statement, but Ms Hutt insisted that she must 'respect the process' and only respond in detail to a full Public Accounts Committee report.

Outside the chamber, that defence has been dismissed as 'flannel' by the Assembly leader of the Welsh Conservatives, Andrew RT Davies:

This lazy Labour cabinet holes itself up on issues of national importance far too often.

While the pantomime ministers are happy to dismiss responsibility and shriek with horror at difficult UK government decisions, they repeatedly lock their doors and shun the spotlight on issues that call their leadership into question.

The First Minister should say sorry for this shambles and give a guarantee that it won’t happen again

– Andrew RT Davies, Welsh Conservatives' Assembly leader

Labour responded to the sustained criticism of which it's been on the receiving end today, by trying to turn the focus back onto the opposition, in particular the Lib Dems and claims they've made about Labour links to AWEMA. A Welsh Government source said:

Back in February of this year, the Welsh Lib Dems made some totally unsubstantiated claims about Labour Party involvement in this issue. We now know, none of their smearing was in any way true. Perhaps it’s time the Welsh Libs Dems apologised for misleading the public and the media.

Later it repeated the criticism and added a new one: that the opposition leaders had 'chickened out' of confronting the First Minister with the matter. A source said:

Opposition parties clearly chickened-out of confronting the First Minister over AWEMA during FMQs this afternoon. The WAO report scuppered their attempt to smear the Government on this issue. They have failed miserably.

That was given short shrift by a spokesperson for the Welsh Liberal Democrats who told me:

Name calling and goading of opposition parties is a futile attempt to distract from very serious concerns about the incompetence of Labour ministers in dealing with AWEMA.

Nineteen critical reports about government grant management, half a million pounds of Welsh tax payers’ money wasted and lessons still not being learnt – all of this under Labour’s watch.

The maturity of this Labour Government is reflected in their “spokesperson’s” comments.