LEADERS overseeing the £1.3 billion city deal for the Swansea Bay City Region have been advised that the suspensions of high-ranking Swansea University staff could impact one of the city deal projects.
This leadership group — or joint committee — has now ordered an internal review of the governance of the 11 projects to ensure that due diligence has and is being followed.
Joint committee chairman Rob Stewart told a meeting that he and colleagues met university registrar Andrew Rhodes this week to seek assurances following the suspension of the dean of the school of management Professor Marc Clement, vice-chancellor Professor Richard Davies and two un-named colleagues.
This assurance was sought because the university is a prominent partner in the city deal, including a £200 million Wellness and Life Science Village planned at Delta Lakes, Llanelli.
Mr Stewart said the suspensions had no bearing on 10 of the projects.
“There is only a current concern relating to Delta Lakes,” he said.
The internal review to be undertaken by the joint committee will revisit governance arrangements and consider ways of improving the management of the city deal.
Mr Stewart said review would be “specifically around Delta Lakes and the other 10 projects” to put “beyond doubt” that the city deal was robust.
He also said it was inappropriate for him to comment on the suspensions, given that the investigation was a university matter and was “live”.
The university has not indicated what the suspensions relate to and won’t comment further until the investigation is concluded.
Professor Clement has strenuously denied any wrongdoing.
Mr Stewart, who is also the leader of Swansea Council, said the university’s ongoing commitment to the city deal was welcome.
The joint committee’s internal review will run in parallel with one instigated by the UK and Welsh Governments, which is expected to finish by the end of next month and won’t hold up any of the projects.
Meanwhile, Carmarthenshire Council is separately seeking an external legal review of the Delta Lakes project and is looking at new ways of delivering the private-public scheme after terminating a collaboration agreement with a company called Sterling Health Security Holdings.
The collaboration agreement also involves Swansea University.
Joint committee member Emlyn Dole, who leads Carmarthenshire Council, told the meeting that he wanted to be sure that public funds destined for the Delta Lakes project were “fully protected”.
Mr Dole said: “We remain committed to work together and to deliver all 11 projects of the city deal programme.”
Mr Stewart said the joint committee would ask Camarthenshire Council to provide it with “visibility” of the outcome of its legal review.
Updates were also provided at the meeting about the projects for Swansea, Neath Port Talbot, Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire.
There has been much to-ing and fro-ing between city deal staff and representatives from the UK and Welsh Governments in a bid to ensure each project’s final business case can be signed off.
Some of the projects cover all four authorities while the majority are focused on particular developments in each council area.
Swansea Council chief executive Phil Roberts told the committee he was “anxious” for approval of the Swansea City and Waterfront Digital District project, which comprises the digital indoor arena among other elements.
Referring to the arena, Mr Roberts said: “We can only go so far with the cash we have got. We don’t want any hold-ups with this project.”
And Sarah Jennings, director of partnerships and corporate services at Hywel Dda University Health Board, which is a partner in the Delta Lakes projects, reaffirmed the health board’s support.
“We are really committed,” she said. “That project (Delta Lakes) is vital.”
Speaking after the meeting, Mr Stewart said: “Dovetailing with the Governments’ own rapid independent review into the city deal, our review is aimed at providing further reassurances that will enable the release of city deal funding as soon as possible, subject to business case approvals.
“City deal project work will continue in the meantime, with first project business case approvals expected by the end of March 2019.”
He added that “all partners remain totally committed” to the deal.