AMID a brewing row over the Circuit of Wales the first minister has asked the head of the Welsh Government's civil service to conduct a probe into whether the actions of Alun Davies as a constituency AM has conflicted with his position as a minister.
A storm has broken out over whether the Blaenau Gwent AM, who is also natural resources minister, has broken the ministerial code over the Circuit of Wales project after it emerged that he had contacted Natural Resources Wales in favour of the project.
NRW had been objecting to the £280 million racetrack but later dropped its concerns in the months following Mr Davies’ correspondence.
Members of the opposition had demanded an investigation into whether the code that ministers are expected to abide by was broken – and the leader of the Tories has suggested that if a breach is found Mr Davies should step down.
Carwyn Jones, first minister, said this morning that the permanent secretary Sir Derek Jones has been asked to look into the facts surrounding the issue, and to report back in two weeks.
He said: “There has been concern expressed recently about the actions of one of my ministers and whether his role as a constituency member has conflicted with his position as a Minister.
“In light of this, I have today asked the permanent secretary to look into the facts surrounding this matter.
“I have requested that the permanent secretary reports back to me within two weeks. I will update members in due course.”
This morning Tory leader of the opposition Andrew RT Davies told a press conference: “If on investigation I found the breach had occurred then I would expect the minister to go. Simple as that.”
Kirsty Williams, Welsh Lib Dem leader, told her Tuesday morning briefing: “I think given the chain of events of Natural Resources Wales expressing grave concerns about the environmental impact of that particular project, and then receives a letter from the minister responsible for them and their remit letter, and then subsequently all their concerns about their environmental impact of that project go away, it’s going to make people suspicious.”
Llyr Gruffydd AM, of Plaid, told journalists: “If rules have been broken clearly he [Alun Davies] will be aware there will be implications from that.
“The normal course of action is that you raise issues with the planning authority because it’s their decision. It’s very strange that you go to one of the statutory consultees because there are a number of them, particularly not when you preside over that organisation as minister.
“For him not to realise that raises questions about his judgement as well."
Mr Gruffydd said he doesn’t want to call for someone’s resignation before “we know the facts".“If you don’t play to the rules you shouldn’t be allowed to play.”
Asked about the decision by the Welsh Government not to call the planning application in, Mr Gruffydd said: “If any potential subsequent inquiry shows that there was undue influence and that advice was changed as a result of that it of course brings into question the validity of the original decision.”
He said the issue leaves the application opens to judicial review: “As things stands he could become one of the biggest Achilles heels of the project.”
Mr Gruffydd had asked Carwyn Jones in the Assembly on October 8 to confirm whether it would not be appropriate for officials or members of the Welsh Government to influence Natural Resources Wales when it comes to giving opinions on planning applications.
Mr Jones responded: “Yes, I can. Natural Resources Wales is a body that is independent of Government.”