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Watchdog to investigate Welsh Government’s purchase of £4.25m farm

A public spending watchdog is set to investigate the Welsh Government’s purchase a farm for a music festival. Last Friday it was announced that the Welsh Government had spent £4.25m on Gilestone Farm in an attempt to secure the future of Green Man Festival.

The economy minister, Vaughan Gething, had said the government bought the 240-acre farm in the Brecon Beacons to ensure the art and music festival has a “permanent home” in Wales although he added that a deal to lease the site was still being negotiated. But the festival has said it will keep its event in Crickhowell, which has prompted questions over the deal.

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On Wednesday the Senedd’s Public Accounts Committee agreed to ask the Auditor General for Wales to investigate the purchase and to presents its findings to the committee before they decide how to proceed further. The purchase has attracted criticism from other political parties with some suggesting that taxpayers’ money should be spent elsewhere amid the cost of living crisis. You can read more about the festival here.

The leader of the Welsh Conservative group in the Senedd, Andrew RT Davies, said the circumstances surrounding the deal “remain shadowy”. In a statement he said: “While I am immensely proud of Green Man’s cultural and economic footprint the circumstances surrounding Welsh Government’s purchase of Gilestone Farm remain shadowy.

“It’s clear that Labour ministers have purchased this farm, using some £4.25m of taxpayer money, in an exclusive arrangement with Green Man without any business case to speak of. This is not how public money should be spent. I am pleased that the Public Accounts Committee has asked the Auditor General to investigate.”

Last week the BBC reported that Mr Gething told the Senedd that the land was not bought “above market value” and the ambition was to ensure Green Man has a “permanent home” in Wales. He said “further negotiations” would take place with Green Man “either to look at the purchase or a further lease arrangement for the site”.

For now the land has been leased back to its former owner who still has crops to harvest and bookings to honour. The minister promised to update the Senedd when it receives a business plan from Green Man.

When asked about the issue by MPs at a House of Commons’ Welsh Affairs Select Committee this week the festival’s managing director Fiona Stewart said that Green Man festival was “not moving” to Gilestone Farm. But she added that she was unable to “talk about it” further and asked if they could “move on from the subject”.

During the committee hearing she said: “The Green Man as a brand is a multitude of things… It’s training, it’s food and beverage, it’s events, it’s climate change, it’s science and I think the idea if it goes forward is that we would be developing those things on that new space.”

Later in the session Ms Stewart was asked whether she had been asked to put forward a business plan for the purchase of Gilestone Farm. She did not answer that question but said of the Welsh Government: “They’re getting behind success and culture in a major way which, I think, if they’re doing that with me and my organisation shows that they’ll be doing it with other organisations.”

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