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Archive for January, 2015

FOI – Pembrokeshire Produce Direct

30 Jan

I recently sent through a Freedom Of Information question and waited to see if I’d get a response or not. Well I did get a response and I thought I’d share it with as I’m sure it will interest quite a few of you. Follows are my questions, the FOI response and my take on it:

Where was funding obtained for the difference between project cost of £789,660 and the grant awarded of £469,596?

  1. The correct procedure to follow when the PPD project was seemingly folding, was to call an EGM for the 72 producers. So when did this EGM take place and how many of the 72 producers attended?
  2. If an EGM was not held, who took the decision to fold this project?
  3. Please forward a copy of final accounts and clarify how assets of PPD were disposed of.
  4. How many meetings did PPD hold over the running of their project? How many of these meetings that were held had a constitutional quorum present?
  5. The Welsh Government authorised this project. Did the Welsh Government then monitor this project, especially in the early stages? Or were WAG simply content to hand over £500k of European money?
  6. Did the Welsh Government monitor attendance of the rare meetings that were held? If those meetings were monitored, surely that would have rung warning bells and suggest help was needed, or the project should have been scrapped earlier before wasting £500k.
  7. When the final PPD meeting was held, was there a constitutional quorum present?

In relation to question 1, funding for the difference between the project costs and the grant awarded was obtained from other sources. This information is available from Pembrokeshire Produce Direct Limited.

In relation to question 6, there is a requirement for an independent evaluation of all Supply Chain Efficiency Scheme projects. There have been two interim evaluations completed on the PPD project, copies of which are held by Welsh Government. I have concluded that this information is exempt from disclosure under Section 22 of the FOIA, information intended for future publication. Full reasoning for applying this exemption is detailed at Annex A. The information will be published after a full evaluation of the Supply Chain Efficiency Scheme has been completed.

Regarding questions 2 – 5 and 7 – 8. The internal management arrangements of this cooperative enterprise are not a matter for the Welsh Government and we do not hold the requested information. Concerns of the kind you have raised should be referred to the former Board of Directors of Pembrokeshire Produce Direct Limited as it is they who were responsible for the running of the company.

Annex A – ATISN 9085 – Pembrokeshire Produce Direct

Decisions relating to non-disclosure have been taken with due consideration of the exemption identified under Section 22 (1)(a) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000:

Section 22 states that (1) information is exempt information if (a) the information is on Access to Information first obliges me to consider the ‘substantial harm’ test. This means that it has to be shown that substantial harm would occur to the principle the exemption is seeking to protect if the information were released.

Substantial Harm Test

I consider that such harm would be likely to occur if this information was released at this point in time. It is intended to publish the independent project evaluation reports once the full scheme evaluation of the Supply Chain Efficiency Scheme has been completed. The independent project evaluation reports of all Supply Chain Efficiency projects will be published in order to aid public understanding of the information being presented. It must be remembered that when information is released in response to a

Freedom of Information request, that information is made available to anybody and everybody, not just the requestor. As such, when considering your request I must consider the wider effects of disclosure rather than any personal interest you may have in being provided with the information.

Public Interest Test

It is recognised that there are public interest arguments in favour of disclosure. There is the general presumption of openness that the FoI Act and the Welsh Government’s Code aspire to. The public interest in the use of European funds is also recognised. However, as explained above, it is the intention to publish the independent project evaluation reports once the full scheme evaluation of the Supply Chain Efficiency Scheme has been completed. The independent project evaluation reports of all Supply Chain Efficiency projects will be published in order to aid public understanding of the information being presented. If the information from an individual project were to be published alone it would be likely to cause confusion amongst members of the public as the data may be misconstrued and re-published, or extracts of the information re-published, in such an ambiguous way as to cause confusion. I do not believe it would be in the wider public interest to release the information without the details of all independent project evaluation reports. I believe therefore that the balance of the public interest falls in favour of withholding the information held by the public authority with a view to publication, by the authority or any other person, at some future date (whether determined or not).

This Section is a qualified (public interest tested) exemption. This means that in order to engage it I must show that the public interest in withholding the information is greater than the public interest in releasing it. Before I can consider the public interest however, the Welsh Government’s Code of Practice

I’ve had many producers asking for more information about PPD, hence this FOI. The bulk of our producers are furious beyond belief that PPD did not call an EGM – ‘wrapped up by email’ was how one producer described it. Another said: How are you supposed to get the information on a company when the company has been dissolved?  Company check says this:-Telephone 01437563035 Email Address No email address available. Contact Person No contact person available. Business Activity Mixed farming (SIC code 01500) Read more at: http://companycheck.co.uk/company/06420695

This producer continued by giving wag’s definition of Freedom Of Information, freedom applies only to what wag are not ashamed to reveal. As for not giving out the info on the Supply Chain, translates as ‘we will release this info buried deep in some obscure bit of bumph in the future when everyone has forgotten about it. That way wag will  not trouble the general publics’ little brains and confuse them into thinking wag actually knows what its doing, even though it’s clear wag has little idea what is going on………………..’

The total PPD project cost was £789,660 with a grant awarded a grant of £469,596, but it’s proved impossible for me to track down where the balance of around £320k came from. It’s yet another SCES Welsh food mystery and once again I feel fobbed off. I think the questions I asked were reasonable, but the few answers I’ve been given, bear a close resemblance to a game of smoke and mirrors. It does however remind me of a UK government mess-up when a government spokesperson got caught out saying as that day was a busy news day, it was a good day to bury bad news!!!  I’ve now been officially told that the evaluation of the SCE scheme has been contracted to an independent company and that is only scheduled to be completed by the end of September 2015. We expect therefore to publish the final report and supporting documents by the end of 2015. Publish, presumably on their website but where? Plus when am I supposed to start my search looking for it? I guess Christmas is a good time for wag to ‘bury’ this SCES ‘news’.

PPD is no longer trading, so who am I supposed to ask as wag food are unable to supply sensible answers? Why is anyone at the former PPD obliged to answer my questions, if wag will not? I understood wag was supervising the SCES scheme, but seemingly, yet again, wag use their opt-out scheme for not giving out information. Maybe addressing my unanswered questions to Europe is a way to save my time and money. This is after all European money and wag are accountable to them.

As there have been two interim evaluations completed on the PPD project, copies of which are held by Welsh Government, why are they still a secret as the PPD management have closed down PPD? I struggle to believe that both these reports, whoever complied them,  were so good that wag alarm bells could, in theory anyway, be reassured to remain silent? Of course it’s hardly the first time I’ve been told that this information is exempt from disclosure under Section 22 of the FOI Act, information intended for future publication, that’s often what happens with cans of worms. But when you are asking reasonable questions, concerning European money and few questions are answered, what am I supposed to think? All I want is the truth; it’s as simple as that. Some questions ‘might’ be answered in the future and maybe wag will supply me with a large spade to enable me to dig through their website for the answers I require. Discounting the fact that it relies heavily on whoever is compiling the final evaluations to enable me to get the answers I require and of course we are not supposed to know who is being paid from the public purse to compile these evaluations. Journalists and the Welsh public have a right to answers and not be fobbed off.

It goes without saying that wag could have been helpful and given me a date as to when and where the independent project evaluations reports will be published, but it’s no surprise they haven’t. After all I’m just trying to do my job. I’ve no idea who’s compiling these evaluation reports, although I could make a calculated guess. But who is completing these independent reports? Why is it a secret? Why do wag simply keep more information to themselves? I’ll never grasp why wag can’t understand that it’s good to share – even with journalists!!

So the onus is on me to go back to them and ask when and where this SCES information will be available. I am though wondering where on wag’s website they might to try and bury this bad news. The public have a right to find out precisely what went wrong with PPD; £880k is, after all, no small amount of loose change. My view is that there have been many failures from this SCE Scheme scheme and someone must accept that fact. But I’m guessing that wag will couch this in lessons they might learn in the future.

Please don’t try to bury this bad news despite how long you wish to hold on to it before publishing it………………………….

 
 

Great Taste Award Event In Cardiff

19 Jan

Over the last week or so, I’ve had a few producers asking me about an event being held in Cardiff tomorrow, hosted by our Deputy Food Minister and organised by Food & Drink Wales and supported by the Great Taste Awards. The great and the good, plus Welsh AMs have been invited. If only I was either great or good, or preferably both! I’m told the event will give Assembly Members the chance to meet food and drink producers from every corner of Wales. Well actually that’s misleading because the only Welsh food and drink producers that have been invited are those who have won Gold at the Great Taste Awards. And Let me tell you that is not an easy task because unlike our True Taste the GT has a sensible star system.

Actually I can only see the point in pushing the UK Great Taste Awards if Wales could also trumpet their own True Taste Awards.

I’m being asked why this event is running in Cardiff and why has there been no news about the Wales The True Taste which former Food Minister Alun Davies dumped unceremoniously, saying it wasn’t working for today’s Welsh market. Well folks I think by now it should go without saying that wag food haven’t bothered to tell me anything about tomorrow’s event. Regulars will have read on welshfoodbites that ‘wag doesn’t engage with bloggers and wag has decreed that’s what I am! Forget and ignore Welsh Country magazine. Wag says I’m a blogger and wag are always right, aren’t they? ………………..

With food producers asking me questions about tomorrow, it’s safe to say wag food don’t think it worthwhile to let most Welsh food and drink producers know anything about it either. So at least they are treating us both equally! Communication is the key, but apparently not for wag food. Welsh food and drink producers that have won Gold at the Great Taste have been invited and I hope they’ll be able to make some good contacts with the major food buyers that have also been invited.

I believe that the Great Taste team were initially paid by wag food to set up the True Taste. So I would then have expected the changing face of the Welsh food and drink to have been taken into account, but seemingly not. Isn’t it weird though that Great Taste continues very successfully, covering the changing face of the whole of UK food but Wales has discarded the True Taste because it’s unable to do a job for Wales.

Thankfully many of our Welsh food and drink producers are also successful in the Great Taste Awards, but still say they don’t understand why wag dumped True Taste instead of using logic and tweaking it as the years went by. But this is wag, so it’s much easier for them to throw the baby out with the bath water – no point in asking producers if they wanted TT dumped……………

 
 

When’s A Journalist Not A Journalist?

14 Jan

I last posted on this topic on 8th December following my original post on 7th August. Sorry but I’m not offering prizes for guessing correctly why I’m now posting this question for the third time. Because guess what? Wag still cannot be bothered to answer my questions. But am I wrong? Have I made my questions too difficult for them? Well from this side that is certainly how it seems. Have wag and wag food something to hide? Well maybe. Has someone made the wrong decision and wag hasn’t the guts to back down? Or is wag guilty of digging a hole and then doesn’t know when to stop digging? In the real world they could have solved their error with a simple apology, but we mustn’t forget I’m asking wag food to explain themselves, which is not just proving difficult, just jolly impossible.

The main question I’ve been asking since August, is why after editing and publishing Welsh Country for over ten years, wag food have suddenly decided that I must now be classed as purely a ‘blogger’ and metaphorically sent to Coventry. Because as we all know quite clearly by now, the Welsh Government’s policy is not to engage with the blogging community. The fact that the Welsh Government consistently fail to engage with their own producers doesn’t appear to worry them either.
On 9th December I decided to try another tack. I, as a constituent,  wrote to one of my Regional Assembly Members, who happens to be our Deputy Food Minister. I fairly sure, that despite the government saying that food and farming are so vital to Wales we have neither a Farming nor Food Minister. So I wait impatiently for a reply, assuming wrongly that AM’s have a duty to respond to emails/letters in a set timescale, but seemingly they are under no statutory obligation to respond to correspondence within a certain time frame. I would have appreciated my Assembly Member, albeit being Regional and not directly voted in, exercising some common sense and to have dealt with my constituent query herself and responded in a timely manner. But unfortunately my Regional Assembly Member was unable to do either of these things for me – but I’ll save time and ignore the rudeness. So today, as I had not received a reply, I sent a reminder. Well guess what dear readers, I did get a reply today, but not from my Regional Assembly Member and our Deputy Minister, but from our Head of Food. Who says:

Thank you for your email dated 9 December 2014 to the Deputy Minister for Farming and Food regarding your recent communications with the Welsh Government, I have been asked to reply.
We responded to you on 10 November 2014 and 5 December 2014 on these matters and have nothing further to add to our previous replies on this issue. In the absence of any new information from you the Welsh Government will not be responding further to you on this topic. If you are still unhappy with my response, you can raise the matter with the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales

Now would I really be wasting so much time asking the same questions if wag food had answered them on 10/11 let alone on the 5/12? Of course not, that’s so pathetically stupid that I despair of this department. What are they trying to achieve? Being labelled a blogger means wag food have stopped me using the press office and taken me off their press mailing list, so should wag food ever send out press releases, I’ll not get them sent to me. My past PR experience tells me that the more journalists, writers you can get your news out too the better. There is no such thing as bad publicity, just a different way of getting the most out of it. But having said that I’ve never had to deal with a Government before, I’ve also dealt with professional people who have to earn their living by doing a good job and getting results. With government it seems ticking boxes is more a priority than getting message and news outside of their glass tower. Wag tells me to use their website which is the most difficult website I’ve been on of late to find information. Plus it’s time-consuming. Getting press releases is a basic tool for journalists, it’s how we can compile stories, features, but of course, I mustn’t forget that wag food say I’m a blogger, forgetting or ignoring that I’ve to put together 10 pages of Welsh food and drink for each Welsh Country issue and over 250 pages about Welsh Food  & Drink on the Welsh Country website  – gosh silly me.

I’m at a loss to understand this government and the food department, it would appear both have their own agenda and top of the list is Welsh Country, the only pan Wales magazine that covers in-depth Welsh food and drink. We’ll it must make sense to them, but not sure how.

My advice to the Welsh Government and wag’s food department is when in a hole, out your large spade down and stop digging……………..

 
 

Gorseinon Food Festival Does Not Run This Year

14 Jan

I’ve had sad news today that Gorseinon food festival is not running this year due to unfortunate circumstances. Well it’s not just me that’s gutted to hear this news, but the regular food and drink producers will be devastated. This is one of my favourite festivals and that’s because organiser Bill Sweetman and his team always ran such a friendly, fun and busy festival.

This is a huge blow to the food festival calendar as it kicked off the season with a big bang and was a great celebration of Welsh food and drink. I’m really sorry and hope that next year it will return, but meanwhile. I’d just like to pass on my thanks to all the hardworking team at Gorseinon.