SENIOR Welsh Assembly Government officials were grilled by AMs yesterday over the failings of a £214m drive to tackle deprivation in some of Wales’ poorest communities.
The flagship Communities First programme was launched eight years ago, yet an inquiry by the Auditor General for Wales found “fundamental risks” and warned it faced falling short of its ambitions.
The 147 projects across Wales delivered local benefits but the Assembly Government had to strengthen its approach to “programme bending” – which requires public bodies to prioritise their spending in these areas.
Under the initiative, local partnerships coordinate activities such as health and well-being events, community safety promotions, youth projects, training courses and environmental clean-ups.
But it was 2007 before the Assembly Government took steps to monitor if partnerships were run as intended.
That review encouraged more focus on outcomes.
Jonathan Morgan, Conservative chair of the watchdog public accounts committee, suggested to civil servants that problems highlighted in a previous evaluation six years ago of the programme had remained.
Plaid Cymru AM in North Wales Janet Ryder highlighted that of £214m spent on the initiative, some £140m went to projects to employ staff and £30.5m to local authorities and voluntary sector to employ staff to manage and support teams in communities.
“Should local councils not have been supporting these initiatives anyway?” she said.
Mr Morgan said: “The whole idea was to try to improve the community fabric within the 100 most deprived wards, not as a recruitment exercise for local authorities or anyone else.”
Emyr Roberts, director general for public services, said: “Many of these areas lack capacity to get community development underway, the first phase has been about developing that capacity.”
Dame Gillian said it was impossible to manage all projects from the centre.