Welsh Conservatives have today announced plans to replace the scandal-hit quango, Natural Resources Wales, as part of its vision for the environment in Wales post-Brexit.
Shadow Environment and Rural Affairs Secretary, Andrew RT Davies AM, has called for NRW to be scrapped and replaced by two separate bodies; one handling the regulatory duties undertaken by the organisation and the other its commercial aspects, with Brexit providing an opportunity to ensure Wales is at the forefront of environmental measures.
The organisation has been besieged by scandal, incompetence and poor staff morale since its inception back in 2013 when the Welsh Labour Government made it Wales’ largest quango via a merger of the Countryside Council for Wales, Environment Agency Wales, and the Forestry Commission Wales.
Yesterday, a report by the Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee found that incompetence alone did not explain why Natural Resources Wales repeatedly sold publicly-owned timber without going to the open market.
The devising of the replacement bodies will be one of the first challenges put to the Environment Policy Board recently announced by Andrew RT Davies.
Announcing the plans to abolish Natural Resources Wales, he said:
“It’s been clear for some time that Natural Resources Wales is no longer fit for purpose and that the Welsh public has lost faith in the organisation.
“As part of our exciting vision for Wales post-Brexit, we’d scrap this bloated and largely incompetent quango, and ensure the regulatory and commercial duties were carried out separately and effectively.
“We have the opportunity to ensure Wales is at the forefront of environmental policy but it’s clear in the case of NRW, that bigger isn’t always better. Unlike the Welsh Labour Government, we aren’t prepared to accept sub-standard performance, particularly when staff at NRW have been so disparaging about the direction of the organisation.
“NRW has been besieged by scandal and incompetence and it’s time the Welsh Labour Government put its hands up and admitted this merger has failed to deliver for the people of Wales.
“Brexit provides us with the chance to do things differently and Welsh Conservatives will use this freedom to reset the environmental protection, regulation and maintenance of natural resources throughout Wales.
“We’ll ensure government departments and organisations are delivering value for money for the taxpayer and are listening to our communities whilst making evidence-based decisions.
“In all of these aspects, NRW has systematically failed the people of Wales, and that’s why it’s imperative we change course.”
Leader of the Welsh Conservatives Paul Davies AM added:
“It seems the only time NRW is in the news is when there’s another scandal. It’s clear that the organisation is broken and never should have been conceived of in the first place – just as Welsh Conservatives warned at the time.
“The alternative bodies we are proposing today will alleviate concerns about the current structure as we will put an end to the unnecessary and thoughtless centralisation the Welsh Labour Government are intent on imposing upon Wales.
“This not only demonstrates to voters that the Welsh Conservatives have a serious policy platform, but also that we have solutions to Welsh Labour’s problems. There is an alternative. Improvement and change in Wales is possible.”
Natural Resources Wales was also strongly criticised by the Wales Audit Office for the timber deal scandal, which lost the Welsh taxpayer at least £1m. This report resulted in the resignation of NRW’s Chair, Diane McCrea.
And in another controversial move, NRW also recently decided to ban game shooting on public land despite compiling an evidence-based report – at a cost of £45,000 to the taxpayer – which advised the organisation to do the contrary.
Whilst staff working for the environmental watchdog have also been hugely critical of the organisation with its ‘People Survey’ in 2016 reporting that only 10% of workers felt NRW was well managed and just 11% had confidence in senior managers' decisions.