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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………………………….

 
 

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  1. BOW

    January 30, 2015 at 4:29 pm

    Kath if you get the truth from what happened on PPD I’ll promise to give you a medal.
    Meanwhile I’ll find you a shovel, or send over my JCB to help you in your digging.
    When civil servants, whose wages we pay for can give you one more run-around, makes me feel sick with disgust.
    I’m thinking the person/s in charge of this scheme even got a promotion if they were working in the private sector they’d no doubt be looking for other employment.

     
  2. BOW TWO

    February 2, 2015 at 11:46 am

    Last comment made me smile, but I’m of the same mind and I too will get you a medal.
    Actually think I’m safe in saying a new car for you would be in order, or even a new house!!!
    Wag treat us as stupid but I think it’s them and they have a real lack of respect for tax payers money.

    If you ever get to see these ‘created’ evaluations you can be sure as eggs are eggs that the people, that are in charge, well in theory, will have learnt so many lessons wasting Europe’s money but they’ll be basically clueless as to where it all went, let alone what it achieved. But lessons learnt comes under wag ticking boxes once more.
    It’s idiotic that so much cash has been wasted under these ill-thought out schemes.
    No-one that knows anything about food producers, would ever expect 70 odd of them to WORK together. But nearly £800k was thrown at PPD to achieve nothing for grass route producers.
    In my eyes that’s criminal.

     
  3. Producer

    February 2, 2015 at 2:59 pm

    I think that wag and food think that every day is a good day to bury bad news.
    that’s what they always do – it is just that there’s loads of it so it is now a habit for them.
    As others have said, you have as much chance of getting the truth on PPD, fork 2 fork and other silly schemes that have been paid a fortune, as a snowball living in hell.
    You haven’t a hope.
    But I give you a 100 out of ten for at least striving to get the truth.
    Of course wag and wag food have a vendetta against you but when you are doing a lousy job I guess you must be worried.
    Will any heads roll at the end of this year when wag will hope we’ve forgotten about this, no they wont. This is not right.
    Give us the truth now about PPD
    RDP money will be given out soon, so how will lessons be learned by those people if we’ve to wait until end of this year to read more government spin.

     
  4. Producer

    February 3, 2015 at 11:04 am

    You’ve opened a can of worms here with sces, but the government will not make it easy in your search for the truth. They preach open government everything above board but they are paying lip service to us as they always do. Treat the Welsh taxpayers as idiots and make your life as a journalist hell with their blocking and secrecy. .

     
  5. food producer

    February 11, 2015 at 11:58 am

    Pembrokeshire producers and the Welsh tax payers deserve to know why so much money was thrown at a project that was highly unlikely to succeed. We need to know why the project wasn’t pulled earlier without losing nearly £800k.We also need to know which persons are responsible for this failure.
    A business cannot afford to lose £800k and wag cannot use exercises like this as tick box exercises and we’ll learn from these for next RDP money.
    I’m disgusted that this has not been stopped earlier.
    Pembrokeshire producers deserved better and so do us taxpayers. This is our money we’ve paid toe Europe and get a segment of it back. Where’s the value of this spend?

     
  6. beef boy

    February 12, 2015 at 4:21 pm

    It doesn’t take a genius, which I’m not quite, to work out that wag food hate you because you are constantly showing up their errors and their bad practice.That’s how I see it.
    They say they want constructive feedback but they don’t mean that, otherwise they wouldn’t have had this stand off with you for what seems like forever.
    They’ve bullied you, that is without question correct. They can get away with bullying you because what can you do? Sure you can put it on here, but I’m guessing everything that has happened isn’t put up on here. Get that you weren’t looking to put this in welsh country but I think you are wrong. You owe them nothing, they have no concern about you so think again. I do think you are wrong.
    It isn’t just the bullying, they are behaving like kids. Their arrogance makes them look even worse. I’ve no time for them at all.
    You’d think wag would want the support of producers, but their arrogance against us and you means it doesn’t matter even though we are their paymasters.
    We can’t vote them in, and we can’t vote them out, but I also believe this dept. is not fit for purpose. We are stuck with them and it’s annoying we’ve no other options.

     
  7. deli

    February 13, 2015 at 12:57 pm

    In Wales it seems many days are good days to bury bad news. But this story is worse. SCES gave money to a scheme that no-one I know, ever thought could possibly work. They got £500k from this scheme and another £400k from other sources. But no Pembrokeshire producers know where this money has gone and what benefit it has been to them. Because they’ve not benefited. This scheme has achieved nothing for them but some people might well have got some benefit. PPD was wrapped up by email, but is that legal?

    At the start Pembrokeshire council were all for this, but then they are for any money they can get into their county for free. Few producers attended PPD meetings. The PCC food officer was initially very involved but backed out when it went pear-shaped.
    Many people have many questions to answer, but that will not happen, despite Kath’s hard work. This will be buried and we’ll be told next year no doubt that SCES have learnt lessons from this failure and the next lot of money will bear better results – what rubbish. The people at the top of sces will not roll, I bet they get promotion instead. But they’ve not done well on this at all or fork2fork.
    No-one takes any responsibility in government at all for wasting tax payers money and this to me should be a crime.
    Thanks Kath for trying to find out the truth. You’ve spent ages searching for the truth on sces, but this this government cannot tell you or us the truth.

     
  8. Food Producer

    February 19, 2015 at 10:04 am

    There should be a limit as to how much wag and wag food can sweep under the carpet.
    I don’t see an open, clear government in Wales and I doubt it ever will. It’s us and them. They get well paid, pensions, paid holidays, etc. and we stupid producers don’t.
    We are not told the truth, in fact wag food tell us very little. They prefer to keep us in the dark and like mushrooms feed us bull – – – –

     
  9. Sarah Miller

    March 6, 2015 at 10:30 pm

    Hi Kath, just take them apart on point one of your list; no EGM was called when the Board decided to close PPD; we just received an e-mail from Ashley Court (the Boards Manager at that time); informing all PPD producers the business was closing on the 1st August. Then followed an e-mail of a bidding sale on the ‘assets’, where you could bid for a number of the available products from the Van to the boxes. No protocol followed or info given; however as a number of us producers gossiped, where did the customer list go.?? Plus the reserve cash that was left for the ‘Wind Up Consultants Report’ that WAG said we must have in order for the project to be left clean!!