Welsh government corporate risk register publication row

The Welsh government has been accused of 'double standards'

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The Welsh government has been criticised for refusing to publish its assessment of the risks it faces, despite making health boards do so.

The first minister personally turned down a BBC Wales request under the Freedom of Information Act to see the government's corporate risk register.

Carwyn Jones said its disclosure would cause "substantial harm".

The registers are a list of all risks an organisation faces - including financial, security and IT.

Start Quote

It's important that people have access to this sort of information, and if they're trying to force health boards to publish, then they ought to do it themselves”

End Quote Darren Millar AM Assembly public accounts committee chair

Darren Millar AM, chair of the assembly's public accounts committee, said: "It smacks of double standards".

In June, Health Minister Lesley Griffiths said she would be instructing all seven local health boards (LHBs) in Wales to publish their own corporate risk registers on their websites.

The registers assess the likelihood of each risk happening, the impact each would have if they did, and counter-measures that could be put into effect.

The government describes its corporate risk register as laying out "the key risks to the overall delivery of the Welsh government's strategic priorities".

Many of the LHB risk registers, now in the public domain, contain highly sensitive concerns about risks to patient care.

Back in May, the Hywel Dda health board register warned of serious risks at Prince Philip Hospital in Llanelli.

Public alarm

Mr Millar called on the Welsh government to reconsider its position.

"It's important that people have access to this sort of information, and if they're trying to force health boards to publish, then they ought to do it themselves," he said.

Asked whether the Welsh government was merely trying to avoid causing public alarm or protect sensitive security details, Mr Millar said he accepted that some information should not necessarily be published.

"I can only assume there are some things which understandably they do not want to publicise, such as detailed legal advice on a whole range of issues which might be inappropriate to place into the public domain," he said.

"But there are certainly pieces of information they could publish to bring them into line with what they are asking the health boards to do."

Alexandra Runswick, of the Unlock Democracy pressure group, backed the Welsh government's decision to get the health service risk registers published, but said it made the refusal to disclose its own difficult to understand.

She said the Welsh government needed to consider the implications of its decision on the culture of open government it was trying to foster.

BBC Wales has appealed against the first minister's decision not to publish the risk register.

The Welsh government has accepted there is a public interest in its disclosure.

'Prejudice and distort'

It added: "Release of the register may enable members of the public to understand better some of the issues facing the Welsh government when implementing its strategic programme."

But it also said that publication would make it harder for civil servants to give "free and frank advice" to ministers.

It warned: "Publishing risk registers may also appear to legitimise possible but unlikely risks.

"This could prejudice and distort informed public debate about important issues which in turn could have an impact on the conduct of public affairs.

"In addition the effective conduct of public affairs could be prejudiced if publication led to officials becoming less inclined to contemplate all possible risks and being less candid in advice offered."

It concluded: "We have weighed the competing public interest arguments and have concluded in this case that the public interest in avoiding substantial harm to the matters protected by the exemptions cited above outweighs the public interest in the disclosure of this information."

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