Doomed Gwent drainage board spent £5k on legal advice
11:22am Monday 30th December 2013 in News
A DOOMED public body spent at least £5,000 on barrister’s advice on challenging a minister’s decision to abolish it following a damning audit report.
But one board member says the 32-member Caldicot and Wentlooge Levels Internal Drainage Board did not agree to speak to a barrister, a matter disputed by the chief staff officer of the body.
One local MP said keeping the body in the board’s hands seemed a waste of public money.
An emergency meeting was held in November after Alun Davies, environment minister, decided to merge the board with Natural Resources Wales.
The board wanted to challenge the minister’s move and minutes show the board was asked to access legal advice regarding the process, costs and prospects of challenging the decision.
Richard Penn, general manager of the body, confirmed to the Argus that the body then commissioned a barrister from London to look into the matter.
But after the advice said such a challenge would cost a lot and was not likely to be successful the board decided not to pursue it further.
Mr Penn said the cost of seeking such advice was between £5,000 and £10,000 but was “nearer £5,000” – he said a precise figure was commercially confidential.
He said the board had acted “entirely properly” and that the drainage board could do what it liked with its resources as a independent public body.
However, Paul Hannon, a Newport councillor for Beechwood, a board member and a critic of the decision to merge the body with NRW, said at “no point did we say that we want to seek counsel’s opinion”.
Mr Penn said it was always clear that was needed. He said the only option available to the board was a judicial review, which requires a barrister to make the case to a judge.
Another board member, Cllr Bob Derbyshire from Cardiff, said the board had agreed to seek barristers advice.
Late in 2012 the Wales Audit Office detailed a list of irregularities at the board, which paid thousands for trips abroad for its members and occasionally acted unlawfully.
Paul Flynn, MP for Newport West, said: “It does seem to be a waste of public money.”
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