Wales politics

Circuit of Wales: Committee 'fobbed off' by Welsh Government

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Media captionNick Ramsay says it is "vitally important" AMs can question the officials involved

An assembly probe into funding for a motor-racing track is being "fobbed off" by the Welsh Government, a committee chairman has claimed.

Two officials pulled out of a public accounts committee (PAC) hearing into the proposed Circuit of Wales near Ebbw Vale in Blaenau Gwent next Monday.

Committee chairman Nick Ramsay said it was "not acceptable" that alternative dates before summer were also rejected.

A Welsh Government source dismissed his comments as "pathetic grandstanding".

Developers claim the £425m project could create 6,000 jobs in one of the most deprived areas of Wales.

Monday's hearing takes place the day before a crucial cabinet meeting, where ministers are expected to discuss whether to approve a £210m guarantee.

It follows a rigorous due diligence process that has scrutinised plans for the scheme. Although it would be privately funded, the developers have asked for a taxpayer-backed guarantee worth around half the cost of the project.

The committee wanted to hear from sectors and business director Mick McGuire and deputy director for business solutions Chris Munday.

Both are involved in the Welsh Government's handling of the Circuit of Wales and would have faced questions about a damning report into £9.3m of grants and loans to the scheme.

The Wales Audit Office said there were "significant shortcomings" in the way the government tried to manage risks to the taxpayer.

Image caption James Price says his colleagues will be completing the due diligence process

Mr McGuire and Mr Munday were due to appear alongside James Price, the deputy permanent secretary for the economy. Instead, Mr Price will be accompanied by Tracey Mayes, head of governance and compliance in his department.

In a letter to the committee, Mr Price said: "I am sure you will appreciate the priority focus for Mr McGuire and Mr Munday must be ensuring the completion of the rigorous due diligence process and associated work so that cabinet has the right information to consider the project comprehensively, and takes its decision in a thoroughly informed way."

Monday's meeting has been in the diary since 12 May, but AMs were told about the changed line-up on Wednesday. One AM said it was "outrageous".

BBC Wales understands the committee invited the two men to other meetings on 10, 11 and 17 July, but the Welsh Government said none of those dates were convenient and suggested AMs send follow-up questions in writing.

"It does look like we've been fobbed off and that's not acceptable," said Mr Ramsay.

"We think it's vitally important that the officers involved in this decision are available for scrutiny by the committee and we are going to be pressing the Welsh Government to make sure that happens before the summer."

Image copyright Circuit of Wales
Image caption The Circuit of Wales needs guarantees from the Welsh Government in order to get the green light

The Conservative AM for Monmouth said the committee had powers to summon witnesses but added: "It's not an ideal way to proceed.

"At the end of the day scrutiny should be a two-way process and we want the Welsh Government to engage with us fully.

"I am hopeful we can reach a solution without having to use any draconian measures."

A Welsh Government source said: "This is nothing but pathetic grandstanding from Nick Ramsay.

"Far from being fobbed off, the PAC will be questioning the most senior civil servant in the department and the second most senior civil servant in the Welsh Government."

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