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DENBIGHSHIRE'S PROBLEMS 'SERVE AS WARNING ON MISUSE OF FUNDS'

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The commons Welsh affairs committee yesterday warned potential beneficiaries of European aid of the dangers of its ...
The commons Welsh affairs committee yesterday warned potential beneficiaries of European aid of the dangers of its misuse, reports The Western Mail (p2).

The committee stated that there were important lessons to be learned from its investigation into the debt inherited by Denbighshire CC from Rhuddlan BC upon local government reorganisation.

Denbighshire has already been asked to pay back almost£800,000 to the European Commission following concern that the finished spending did not meet the original criteria under which Rhuddlan had been given the cash.

The select committee's report makes it clear the figure which Denbighshire may finally be asked to pay back could be as high as£2.3m. In addition to other debts the council inherited from the borough in April 1996, the total could top£10m.

The report says: 'The immenence of Objective One funding in large parts of Wales, Denbighshire included, gives these issues particular urgency. It is vital that those applying for grant-funding appreciate the importance of keeping to specification and of fulfilling the terms of the grant.'

Seminars or workshops on the application process are identified as possible ways of avoiding future problems. And the committee suggests a network of regional advice centres may be another solution.

They also call for tighter monitoring of structural fund money from Europe with frequent checks to make sure it is spent in accordance with grant guidelines.

Committee chairman Martyn Jones last night said: 'No one comes out of this report without having to take some share of the blame for Denbighshire's current problems.'

The report singles out former chief executive Edwin Lake for criticism, calling on him to say sorry to local people. 'Council officers have been found by the district auditor to have been negligent in their management of very large sums of public money,' it says.

'We empathise with the anger felt locally that those involved have got away without so much as a reprimand. It is time that the former chief executive officer, who has admitted mismanagement, should now apologise to the whole community for what took place.'

The committee report concludes: 'There needs to be a further study of what went wrong in Rhuddlan, in order to ensure that it does not happen again.'

It also calls on the Welsh assembly to recognise Denbighshire's plight and do all it can to assist, trusting that it 'will provide further assistance to the county if it is required to pay back grant to the extent that is feared'.

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