Doubts over minister's claim S4C agreed £2m cut

First Minister Carwyn Jones says UK Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt may have misled Parliament about a £2m cut in S4C's budget.

Mr Hunt has said the reduction was "mutually agreed", but documents show S4C's chairman refused to accept cuts because he thought they were unlawful.

Mr Jones said the UK government "had some explaining to do" and called for clarification about what was said.

In response, Mr Hunt's department again said the cut "was agreed by both".

Documents released under the Freedom of Information ACt also appear to indicate S4C's then chief executive, Iona Jones, who left in July, was negotiating with Mr Hunt's department in the same period.

These are the latest twists in an increasingly bitter funding battle between the Welsh language channel and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), which is looking to make substantial reductions in the £100m-a-year grant it gives S4C as part of wider government cutbacks.

Legal advice

A letter released under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act from S4C chairman John Walter Jones to Mr Hunt on 21 May this year says that on the basis of legal advice, it could not legally agree to Mr Hunt's proposals to cut its budget by £2m in this financial year.

Image caption S4C says it has not repaid money to the UK government from its budget

But on 24 May, Mr Hunt wrote to the S4C Authority saying he understood that the channel had agreed to a £2m cut in its grant.

Mr Jones wrote back the following day saying that he wished to make clear that the channel was refusing to volunteer the cut and that it had to be clear that the DCMS had to assume the risk of withholding the money.

However, the notes released under FOI also appear to indicate that Iona Jones did agree the £2m cut with a top official within DCMS, at around the same time that her chairman was refusing.

The split between Ms Jones and the authority erupted into the open when Ms Jones left her job suddenly. It is not known whether the apparent differences over the £2m cut between her and Mr Jones was the cause of the departure.

A spokesperson for the DCMS had said earlier: "We announced a reduction in funding of £2m for S4C for the current year in May. This was agreed with S4C."

She declined to comment on who within S4C made the agreement.

In a parliamentary written answer to the Plaid Cymru MP Jonathan Edwards on 8 June, Mr Hunt said: "I discussed funding reductions with S4C recently. The outcome was that it was mutually agreed that there would be a reduction of £2m in S4C's budget from my department for the current year."

First Minister Carwyn Jones said: "What is clear at the moment is that the UK government have some explaining to do in terms of the news that's emerged this morning as to whether S4C agreed this reduction in funding.

"On the face of it, it appears that what was said to parliament by the appropriate minister may have been wrong, now clearly that needs to be clarified."

Following Carwyn Jones's comments, the DCMS said it had announced the cut in May and added: "This announcement was made following discussions between DCMS and S4C and the reduction was agreed by both parties."

Earlier, Plaid Cymru AM Rhodri Glyn Thomas, who made the request to obtain the documents, said: "The FOI information we have received shows S4C making it absolutely clear to DCMS that they would be acting unlawfully and would indeed be in a situation of ultra vires if they agreed to return any money or indeed agree to a reduction in their funding".

Mr Thomas said believed DCMS decided to ignore the legal advice "and were pressuring S4C to acquiesce to the reduction". He said this raised serious questions about Mr Hunt.

In a statement, the channel said: "S4C has previously stated that the £2m cut to its grant in aid was not volunteered.

"S4C has not made a repayment to DCMS. The duties and responsibilities of the S4C Authority are placed upon it by statute and these duties place strict requirements upon the authority to safeguard its public funding.

"We have no further comment."

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