Ministers recuse themselves from decisions over Green Man farm purchase after social event with festival boss
Ministers who met with the owner of the Green Man festival at the home of her lobbyist will now recuse themselves from any future decision-making about a farm near the festival site.
The Welsh Government had bought the £4.25m farm seven miles from the festival’s site in Powys to help the festival develop its business.
But it was later revealed by WalesOnline that Climate Change Minister Julie James and Education Minister Jeremy Miles had met with the owner of the Green Man festival at the home of her lobbyist.
In a statement today, First Minister Mark Drakeford said that this meeting had been a “social event” in a “personal capacity”. He added that no breach of the Ministerial Code had taken place.
However, he added that “in view of the risk of perceived conflict, both Ministers have recused themselves from any future decisions”.
He was reacting to a report written by the Welsh Government’s director of propriety and ethics.
The report said that the meeting between the ministers, Green Man festival owner Fiona Stewart and lobbyist Cathy Owens of Deryn Consulting in May was a purely social occasion. It did not include a discussion about the purchase of Gilestone Farm, the report said.
In a statement, Mark Drakeford said: “Members may be aware of media reporting relating to a social event attended by the Minister for Climate Change and the Minister for Education and Welsh Language in a personal capacity in May of this year.
“Given the reported attendance of the chief executive of the Green Man Festival at the event, and the recent purchase of Gilestone Farm, I asked the Welsh Government’s Permanent Secretary to provide me with a report on the circumstances.
“For the avoidance of any doubt, the advice concludes that no breach of the Ministerial Code had taken place and that neither Minister had exercised any decision making in relation to the purchase of Gilestone Farm.
“Whilst neither Minister is anticipated to be a decision maker in relation to Gilestone Farm, in view of the risk of perceived conflict, both Ministers have recused themselves from any future decisions.
“The advice recommends that Ministers are provided with guidance for contacts with lobbyists that occurs in their non-Ministerial capacity. I will write to Ministers to provide this guidance.”
Mabon ap Gwynfor, Plaid Cymru’s Rural Affairs Spokesperson, who had expressed concerns about the meeting last week, said: “This is nothing but a whitewash.
“The facts remain that a furtive meeting was held between government ministers and the owner of the Green Man Festival who was at that time in the middle of drawing up a business plan to justify government spending on her business, at the home of the Green Man Festival’s lobbyist, who happened to also be a former Government special advisor.
“It was held at a crucial time, when the Green Man Festival was having to draw up a business plan to justify £4.25m of taxpayers’ money being spent on Gilestone farm for the Festival, and when we were asking difficult questions in the Senedd.
“They are asking us to believe that the issue wasn’t discussed at all.
“Forgive me for my cynicism, but this pushes the realms of credibility to the extreme.
“Ministers have demonstrated extremely poor judgement and left themselves in a compromising position. Governments make decisions by collective responsibility, the fact that they had no direct ministerial involvement is not defence.
“This episode casts serious doubt on the inner workings of the Welsh Government and its attitude to transparency.
“The Director of Propriety and Ethics has identified serious shortcoming in the rules that govern the relationship between Ministers and lobbyists.
“Without a significant tightening of the rules Ministers will continue to have carte blanche to meet who they like when they like without anyone knowing about it.”
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