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Senior Sport Wales Staff Suspended

Review showed 'significant breakdown' in relations

The chair and vice-chair of Sport Wales have been suspended.

Public Health Minister Rebecca Evans announced that the rest of the board would be re-instated.

She says a review by ministers had revealed a "significant breakdown" in relations at a senior level.

This afternoon's statement says:

I would like to update members on the way forward in relation to the Board and governance of Sport Wales.

Members will recall late last year, the decision was taken to suspend the Board’s activities, following clear indications that relationships amongst some members of the Board had become strained, and as a result, it was not in a position to discharge its duties effectively.

As I said to Members at the time, the suspension of activities was a neutral and temporary act, designed primarily as a cooling-off period, in order for all those involved to reflect, and to provide time for me, as Minister with responsibility for Sport Wales, to be briefed on the background to the situation that had arisen through an assurance review carried out by civil servants.

My overriding objective throughout, and my responsibility as Minister, is to secure a sustainable future for Sport Wales, and to ensure that it is a well-functioning and cohesive organisation.

The assurance review found that a clash of cultures had developed between the Chair and other Board members. This clash of cultures and styles led to a deterioration in the relationship between the Chair and other Board members and ultimately, to the no confidence vote being taken last November.

I have a duty to take action when it is needed, however difficult or complex the situation. This has not been an easy process for anyone involved, and my focus has been on trying to find a strong and stable way forward for Sport Wales, its staff, and the Board, who are the ultimate custodians of more than £20m of public money annually. At this point, my concern is to ensure that staff have the support they need to work effectively, and I pay tribute to their resilience over the last few months – they deserve great credit.

Because of issues relating to data protection and confidentiality, and on the basis of legal advice, it would be inappropriate for me to comment in any detail on the findings of the assurance review. I do want to make clear, for the avoidance of doubt, that the conclusions are principally related to a significant breakdown of some interpersonal relationships at a senior level within Sport Wales.

There are some outstanding issues to be addressed as a result of the assurance review process. In addition, a number of formal complaints have been received by the Welsh Government subsequent to the review being finalised.

Based on advice I have received in relation to these, I have decided to take the following actions:

I have suspended the Chair, Dr Paul Thomas in order for a proper and formal process to be undertaken as a result of the complaints received. I stress that this is once again a neutral act, and in no way pre-judges the outcome of the process. Dr Thomas has been informed of this development.

I have also suspended the Vice-Chair, Adele Baumgardt, due to separate concerns which have arisen around the cohesive functioning of the Board and its relationship with Welsh Ministers. As with Dr Thomas, this is a neutral act, and she has also been informed.

I would like to see the remainder of the current Sport Wales Board stay in place, under interim leadership. My officials have spoken to Board members today to inform them of the situation and ask them to carry on. From today, therefore, I am reinstating the Board’s activities. This will enable a number of important steps to be taken, for example, the budget-setting process ahead of the new financial year in April.

I am today appointing Lawrence Conway as interim chair. He has over 40 years of public service, with specific experience of the interface between government and sponsored bodies. He will help to guide Sport Wales through this difficult period, and shares our key objective of restoring organisational stability. I have also asked John Taylor, the former chief executive of ACAS, to work with him, in a consultative capacity, in order to ensure the Board can operate as a cohesive functioning body.

It is not possible - or indeed desirable - to give a timescale for the current temporary arrangements, but I want to reiterate the importance I place on due process being followed, out of fairness to all the individuals concerned. I would like these processes to be concluded as swiftly as possible.

Looking to the future, it is important that Sport Wales as a whole remains fit for purpose as an organisation. The contribution of sport, at both an elite and grassroots level, to the physical and mental well-being of our country, is vital, and Sport Wales must remain at the forefront of that.

I therefore want to see the Review of Sport Wales, which commenced last year completed, preferably by a member of the existing independent panel, and reported to me as soon as possible. I will update Members further on this in the very near future.

As I said earlier, this has been an extremely difficult period for all, and I regret I have not been able today to give the certainty about the future that I would have wanted. However, what is needed here is a long-term solution, not a sticking plaster, and I need to be assured that the governance of Sport Wales is fully fit for purpose and resilient in the coming months and years. That, I believe, is the objective that can be shared across this chamber.

Commenting outside the chamber following the Minister for Public Services' statement on the activities of Sport Wales, Shadow Secretary for Economy and Sport, Russell George, said: "First and foremost we must pay tribute to the efforts of the staff at Sport Wales in what has clearly been an extremely challenging and difficult period for all involved.

"Sport Wales has a hugely important role to play in promoting physical activity and developing elite sport and it is therefore disappointing that the Minister is still unable to offer any clarity of certainty to its future - particularly given as it oversees an annual budget of over £22m of public money.

"Serious questions also remain over the organisation's culture and the chaos which has ensued in its governance structure and why it took so long for the Welsh Government to intervene and take the necessary action. 

"It is vital this situation is resolved as swiftly as possible so the long-term future of the organisation can be secured and the leadership can focus on delivering on its aims and objectives for sport in Wales rather than resolving internal battles." 
 

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