Wales politics

UKIP AM to have pay docked by £2.5k over damp office

Office in Pontypridd
Image caption The office in a former nightclub in Pontypridd was riddled with damp

A UKIP AM who spent almost £10,000 of public money on a damp office that was never used has agreed to have his salary cut to repay some of the cash.

Gareth Bennett, who signed the lease against advice and has apologised, has had £2,477 taken from his pay.

AMs on the assembly's standards committee have recommended the UKIP group leader be formally reprimanded.

But he will not be subject to the most serious punishment available - exclusion from the assembly.

The move means that the aborted project to open a constituency office at the former Angharad's Nightclub in Pontypridd has cost the South Wales Central AM £7,009.

He had already paid £4,533 in legal fees to get out of the lease on the property, which was riddled with damp, had no electricity on one floor and was in a state of disrepair.

The AMs' decision followed the findings of an investigation by the standards commissioner Sir Roderick Evans which found Mr Bennett signed the lease on the office against solicitors' advice, without a survey and without seeing it himself.

The lease was due to last until April 2021 but it was terminated in September 2017 after it emerged the cost of repairing the building exceeded the allowances available to AMs.

UKIP had feared Mr Bennett would be effectively banned from the assembly without pay for a period of time as punishment, as in other disciplinary cases this year.

But the cross-party committee agreed Mr Bennett should be censured instead - a form of a formal reprimand that will need to be passed by the assembly.

The AMs found Mr Bennett breached the code of conduct by improperly using of assembly resources, and had brought the assembly into disrepute.

Image caption Gareth Bennett had delegated the task of finding an office to his former campaign manager

A total of £9,883 was spent in taxpayers money by Mr Bennett on the property, including £2,477 on building materials, after a lease was signed in March 2017.

The commissioner was unable to fully ascertain what happened to the materials, the sum of which Mr Bennett is effectively repaying in his November pay, although he assumed some were used in the office.

In a report published on Friday Sir Roderick found Mr Bennett had breached the assembly's code of conduct: "Mr Bennett failed to exercise adequate care or oversight".

"In signing the lease without ensuring that necessary surveys and estimates had been obtained and doing so against professional advice, which was being paid for from public funds, he was reckless", he said.

Mr Bennett had delegated the task of finding an office to his campaign manager and former head of office, who is not named in the report and is no longer employed by the assembly.

The AM told Sir Roderick that after the lease was signed the former campaign manager gave a key to a builder he knew with an instruction to enter the property to asses what work needed to be done.

'Extremely disappointed'

The builder produced a list of materials, which were bought in March last year and stored at the office.

Mr Bennett said the builder misunderstood that work to improve the office had been awarded to him and started clearance, redecoration and the construction of partition walls.

Sir Roderick said he did not suspect Mr Bennett derived personal benefit from the cash paid out.

Mr Bennett had offered to repay the cash over the course of Sir Roderick's deliberations, and had instructed the assembly to dock his pay.

He told the commissioner he was "extremely disappointed that the Assembly Commission incurred costs of £9883 in this exercise, and I also incurred personal costs of £4533.

"This is highly regrettable and I should like to offer my apologies for the expense incurred by the Commission from public funds owing to this unfortunate set of circumstances," he said.

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