TWO Welsh Government ministers who attended an off the record dinner party with a lobbyist and the owner of the Green Man are to stand aside from future decisions on a £4m farm purchase for the festival. 

Climate change minister Julie James and the education minister Jeremy Miles have accepted advice they should ‘recuse themselves’ from any future decision making over the Welsh Government’s agreement to buy the farm for the popular music festival that is held every August in Crickhowell. 

The Welsh Government has paid £4.25 million for Gilestone farm, in Talybont-on-Usk near Brecon, and it intends handing management of the site to the Green Man Festival. The purchase was made before the Welsh Government had received a business plan from the festival but last week it emerged James and Miles had attended a private dinner party with festival boss Fiona Stewart and Cathy Owens – whose lobbying firm, Deryn, represents the festival. 

Though the farm purchase had already been completed on March 31, and the dinner party took place on May 16  - and not May 23 as previously thought - the Welsh Government was still awaiting a full business plan from Green Man which wasn't submitted until the end of June. 

That meant the dinner took place while the festival was considering how it could produce a plan that would meet with the government's approval so that it could take on the farm as planned.

The government's purchase of the farm was first reported, by BBC Wales, on Friday May 13 three days before the dinner party and it was first raised in the Senedd on May 18.

The dinner party, which due to a loophole in the Welsh Government’s ministerial code didn’t have to be declared or recorded, was held at Owens’ home. The dinner only came to light after it was discovered by the Western Mail

That prompted first minister Mark Drakeford to order a civil service inquiry into the dinner, which has been described as a “social event”, and the attendance of the two ministers any potential impact on decision making. 

In a statement issued today the first minister said: “Whilst neither Minister is anticipated to be a decision maker in relation to Gilestone Farm, in view of the risk of perceived conflict, both Ministers have recused themselves from any future decisions.” 

The minute of the advice presented to the first minister confirms it was the advice of the civil service that James and Miles should step aside, or recuse themselves, from any future decisions. 

The report, compiled by David Richards, the Welsh Government’s director of propriety and ethics was clear that though the ministers assured him they had attended in a personal capacity, and no ministerial business was discussed, it could be seen as a conflict of interest. 

Richards wrote: “In my view the occasion did have some scope for misinterpretation.  It might have been prudent, with the benefit of hindsight, for the Ministers concerned to have recognised how the occasion might be viewed and taken steps to manage that possibility by recording the event with the First Minister.” 

In the statement the first minister also said: “For the avoidance of any doubt, the advice concludes that no breach of the Ministerial Code had taken place and that neither Minister had exercised any decision making in relation to the purchase of Gilestone Farm.” 

The minute has also confirmed that James, as climate change minister, was a copy recipient of the advice to economy minister Vaughan Gething, on March 23, seeking his approval for the purchase but she played no part in the decision.

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The report also considered the Welsh Government’s ministerial code – which guides ministers on their conduct and how they should carry out their duties – and the loophole which means “informal” meetings, such as social gatherings, do not have to be declared. 

The civil service is now recommending the first minister “should ask his Cabinet colleagues to bear in mind that any contact with lobbyists, even outside of their ministerial roles, may on occasion create a perception that they are opening themselves to influence.” 

Rather than requiring all meetings to be noted and properly recorded the civil service has instead suggested: “First Minister should ask his Cabinet colleagues to bear in mind that any contact with lobbyists, even outside of their ministerial roles, may on occasion create a perception that they are opening themselves to influence.” 

The decision that James and Miles should step aside has been welcomed by Welsh Conservative Senedd leader Andrew RT Davies who had called for them to do so earlier this week

He said: “It says a lot that the two ministers who attended this social gathering have now recused themselves from future decision making on Gilestone Farm. 

 “Those ministers have key decision making powers over areas that could benefit Green Man, and Green Man employs those very lobbyists to gain access to them. 

 “This outcome will only add to perceptions that rules around lobbying in Wales are not fit for purpose.” 

Plaid Cymru MS Mabon ap Gwynfor, who had also written to the first minister questioning James and Miles’ judgement in attending the dinner, had also raised concerns over lobbying in Wales. 

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