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Green Man farm purchase backfires on Gething

A CONTROVERSIAL pie-in-the-sky piece of spending by the Welsh Government has spectacularly backfired.
The Welsh Government already faced accusations that its purchase of Gilestone Farm near Talybont-on-Usk was a waste of public money.

Now, vague plans to use the land to support the commercial activities of the Green Man Festival are in tatters.
The land now homes a pair of nesting ospreys. As a result, the planned development can’t take place.

A DECISION MADE IN HASTE

In any event, the idea the land purchase was essential to secure the Green Man Festival’s future had already been torpedoed. The Festival was never going to relocate to Gilestone Farm. Instead, a company headed by one of the Festival’s organisers would have taken a tenancy and redeveloped it to accommodate training facilities.


Or, at least, that’s what emerged after the company concerned finally devised a business plan – with Welsh Government help – over twelve months after the Farm’s acquisition.

In a report published last year, Audit Wales criticised the conduct of the Welsh Government’s purchase of Gilestone Farm over the open market price.


The report and subsequent examination of the acquisition by a Senedd Committee revealed that the Economy Minister, Vaughan Gething, ignored protocols regarding the Farm’s purchase and was either kept in the dark by Welsh Government civil servants or blind to the lack of a workable business plan and the reality of the Green Man Festival’s intentions for the land.

Audit Wales also ridiculed suggestions that there was any pressure to spend the money used to buy the Farm, which emerged from an underspend during the financial year. It said the idea that the money had to be spent in short order or be lost was wrong and that undue haste was used to circumvent commercial considerations or an assessment of risk.


Claims about the positive economic impacts the development would have are contested, as is the size of the Green Man Festival’s beneficial impact on its locality. An estimate produced for an industry survey suggests economic activity generated by the Green Man Festival is short-term around its dates and confers few lasting benefits or more than seasonal jobs.

SECRET NEGOTIATIONS ANDTHE SOCIAL NETWORK

The Welsh Government’s purchase followed a series of secret negotiations between it and the Green Man Festival stretching back several years.


The Festival gets subsidies from the Welsh Government directly and a host of Welsh Government agencies and arm’s length bodies. However, it is also partly owned by a multi-million-pound ticketing agency.

Welsh Government civil servants – and ministers – met with the Festival organisers, planning to give it even more public money and subsidies to boost Labour’s rural policies and polish its green credentials.


However, Welsh Government civil servants and Labour ministers ignored issues about the land, including its situation on a large flood plain, environmental issues, and pre-existing rights over the land. 

Under Mr Gething’s less than vigorous scrutiny, the Welsh Government paid way more than the asking price for land on the market at a much lower price for a protracted period without being sold.

Two Welsh Government Ministers, Julie James and Jeremy Miles, subsequently had to recuse themselves from further roles in the decision-making process after it emerged they’d attended a dinner party at the home of a director of the PR company working for the Festiva, which a Festival director also attended.


The PR company in question, Deryn Consulting, has well-known – not to say notorious – links to Labour ministers.

GETHING CLAIMS BULLYING OVER SWEETHEART DEAL

After blowing £4.25m on little more than a back-of-a-fag-packet calculation, Mr Gething found himself engulfed in the transaction’s fallout.


In a statement today, Mr Gething tried to deflect from criticism of the Welsh Government’s folly by criticising and smearing those who objected to the Welsh Government putting money in the hands of a private business with corporate links to one of Europe’s largest ticket agencies.

In a remarkably tetchy statement, Mr Gething said: “We are always willing to listen, but Welsh Ministers do not change decisions based on threats issued by third parties, including where attempts are made to raise matters entirely unrelated to the policy objectives in question.


“It is a matter of regret that discussions about Gilestone Farm have sometimes fallen into this category.
“It is equally disappointing that elected officials and business partners have been subject to sustained and personal attacks regarding this matter.

“As the First Minister has stated in the Senedd, the Welsh Government takes these matters very seriously, and it is concerning that women, in particular, have borne the brunt of personal and abusive criticism that has no place in our society.”


In short, objectors were abusive, misogynistic sexists who did not have genuine concerns about public money being splurged on a credential-polishing vanity project for Labour Ministers’ connections and allies or Welsh Government-backed businesses already in receipt of large public subsidies.

A FIASCO AND A WASTE OF MONEY

Others saw things differently from Mr Gething.
Cefin Campbell, Plaid Cymru Member of the Senedd for Mid and West Wales, said: “This sorry tale has been a fiasco from the beginning – from questions over the purchase to a lack of meaningful local engagement.


“It is outrageous that Labour has spent £4.25 million of public money on a site now of no economic importance.
“So much could have been done with this money. For example, this £4.25 million could have funded Bwcabws, a vital transport service in West Wales, for around nine years. The service has now been scrapped.


“The money could have been used to expand free school meals to secondary school pupils who face poverty throughout Wales, but Labour decided not to do this.


“But what’s really concerning is that in the aftermath of this fiasco the Labour party in Wales are pointing fingers at each other. They must all take responsibility and learn lessons from this debacle. The people of Wales are waiting for a government with ambition and a vision to change lives for the better.”

The area’s local MS, James Evans, the Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for Mid Wales, said: “The purchase of Gilestone Farm should never have happened in the first place.


“Conservation concerns were raised early on in this process, as were concerns about the purchase of the Farm itself. Now, the Labour Government finds itself holding an expensive asset for a purpose completely alien to their initial plan.

“The next time the Labour Government plans to get the cheque book out, they should listen to local concerns and conduct themselves with far greater transparency.”

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