THE Gwent public body criticised in a damning report today has responded to the barrage of criticisms levelled against it.

A report by the Wales Audit Office said the Newport-based Caldicot and Wentlooge Levels Internal Drainage Board paid thousands of pounds for trips abroad for its members, overpaid its most senior member of staff, and acted unlawfully on occasions, a damning report released today reveals.

It said the actions of some staff and members of board were "likely to undermine public confidence".

A spokesman for Caldicot and Wentlooge Levels IDB responded today saying: "The Caldicot and Wentlooge Levels Internal Drainage Board (CWLIDB) accepts without reservation the findings set out in the Wales Audit Office Report on its Audit of Accounts 2010-11.

"The Report points to significant and unacceptable failings in the way the organisation was governed and managed in the period prior to 2011.

"However, the organisation that is described in the Report is very different from the current organisation.

"The managers involved in the conflict that is highlighted in the Report have all left the Board’s employment, the Board itself is significantly changed in terms of its membership (and with a new Chair), the processes and procedures (both operational and in terms of governance) are very different and much improved as a result of changes implemented over the last twelve months.

"The Board is fully committed to continuing and completing as soon as possible this radical and comprehensive reform of the Board’s governance, business planning, financial management and employee reward and management arrangements.

"The Board also points out that during a period when many parts of Wales and the UK have suffered significant flooding the Gwent Levels have remained unaffected.

"This is a remarkable record given the nature of the District and the surrounding catchment, large areas of which have been the subject of major industrial and residential development in recent decades, all significantly adding to the risk of flooding.

"All of the local communities and the local business and industrial infrastructure on the Gwent Levels have continued to be very well-served so far as drainage and water level management is concerned throughout a particularly challenging period.

"Our partners and stakeholders have all acknowledged the important contribution made to water level and flood risk management on the Gwent levels made by this small organisation."

Derek David, board chairman for Caldicot and Wentlooge Levels IDB, said: "Over the last year the Board has initiated a programme of fundamental change that will soon be completed, particularly in relation to our business planning and performance management processes.

"We are a small organisation with limited capacity and resources and have had to ensure that to the Board’s core activities have continued to run effectively whilst also quickly implementing this programme of organisational improvement. "The way the Board now works is also completely different. There is much greater clarity about the rights and responsibilities of all Board members and we operate through modern and appropriate governance arrangements that are very different from those that were in place only a year ago.

"As Board Chairman I do not want the past failings and shortcomings to be ignored or swept under the carpet. We have learned some very hard and painful lessons about where things were inappropriate or simply wrong in the way we operated previously. I know that every member of the Board is determined that the hard lessons that have been learnt will ensure that the mistakes of the past will never be repeated."

Richard Penn, general manager for Caldicot and Wentlooge IDB, said: "This has been a very difficult year for the staff and members of the Board as I have driven through fundamental changes in the management and governance of the Board to ensure that the issues that were of concern to the Wales Audit Office were being effectively and urgently addressed.

"I want to pay tribute to staff and Board members for the commitment they have shown to this challenging programme of change.

"It is of significance that the Public Interest Report has only four recommendations, and that three of those ask the Board to ensure that this programme of improvement is completed and then reviewed after a year to ensure the improvements are embedded.

"I am confident that CWLIDB will be an organisation that can continue to make a significant contribution to the Welsh Government’s ‘Living Wales’ agenda and be fully aligned with the Government’s expectations of Twenty First century public service delivery in Wales."