Janet Ryder, Plaid Cymru AM, sat on the Welsh Assembly audit committee that has just produced a report on the Community First projects throughout Wales. In a hard-hitting attack on the programme she said:
"The Communities First programme has not delivered good value for the significant amount of public money spent on it. The report makes it clear that this is largely because of weaknesses in the way the scheme was conceived and managed by previous Welsh Governments.
"In my own area of North Wales, whilst I accept that some local benefits have been delivered in communities, there are too many examples where the project has not made the impact required for such a large investment."Janet Ryder cited three examples in North Wales:
"The experiences of Rhyl West, Plas Madoc and Caia Park are very different but provide examples of a lack of understanding of local needs and the situation already existing on the ground.
"In Rhyl, Communities First failed to establish itself as a community-based organisation and had to be wound up after hundreds of thousands of pounds was spent on administration.
"In Caia Park, Wrexham, there was already an existing partnership in the area that had experience of delivering services and co-ordinating work with other agencies. Given this well-established set-up, it was perverse to try to graft an entirely new Communities First programme onto the community and there was significant conflict between the groups.
"What is clear too is that the vast amount of Communities First money has gone on salaries and administration. I am not convinced that all these programmes, when they come to an end, will leave a lasting and sustainable legacy in the community. Yes, they have launched some initiatives such as food co-operatives but is this sufficient to justify millions of pounds being spent in areas that need that money to make a real difference?"She said the blame for failure had to lie at the top rather than at grassroots level:
"The report makes clear its concern that 'the Welsh Government provides insufficient direction to service providers and is not adequately monitoring the programme'. Now given that public money is tight and we need to ensure best value at all times, how can we justify a £214m programme if it's not being targetted well and then monitored rigorously?"Janet Ryder added:
"The final example in North Wales is Plas Madoc near Wrexham. I don't want to pre-judge an ongoing investigation into that specific Communities First scheme, where two leading staff members are currently suspended, but I have been made aware of very serious concerns regarding its running. Once again, it seems the checks and balances from the centre were not in place. When complaints were first made, they were referred back to the people against whom they were complaining. That is not a healthy and open system of government."She said the report made recommendations to improve monitoring as well as insisting that the Welsh Government ensures that it is able to demonstrate hard outcomes for this investment of public money that demonstrate progress towards the Communities First objectives:
"We're asking that the Welsh Government provides us with a progress report, and details of programme-level movement towards achieving objectives within the next 12 months."