THE WALES Director of broadcasting watchdog Ofcom, Rhodri Williams, is to step down.
It follows a turbulent time for the Cardiff office of the main UK communications regulator.
Last October Ofcom in London admitted that a controversial contract — awarded by the Cardiff office to the Welsh lobbying firm Deryn Consulting — had broken its procurement rules.
The contract was awarded in February 2016 without going out to tender.
We asked Ofcom if the contract was a factor in Rodri Williams’ decision to step down.
It did not answer the question.
A spokesman told Rebecca yesterday:
“Rhodri decided to leave Ofcom after 14 years.”
“He will leave Ofcom this month and we wish him all the best for the future.”
The clear favourite to replace Rhodri Williams is his deputy, Regulatory Affairs Manager Elinor Williams.
She is also his wife — and, before that, his mistress.
Her marriage to civil servant Geraint Williams collapsed in 2013.
Rhodri Williams’ marriage broke up shortly afterwards.
Rhodri and Elinor were married last year.
Rebecca does not investigate personal affairs — unless the relationship raises issues of public patronage.
The couple met in the 1990s and Elinor Williams went on to work for public bodies controlled by Rhodri Williams.
She joined the Welsh Language Board in 2003 when he was Chairman.
She joined Ofcom Wales in 2007 when he was Director.
She stood in as Director when Rhodri Williams was seconded to London.
Her experience — and her personal connections — may deter qualified candidates from applying for the Director post.
Ofcom told us:
“We can confirm that appropriate measures are in place to ensure that any potential conflicts of interest are avoided.”
(After this article was posted, Ofcom also asked us to add the following statement:
“We are conducting an open and transparent recruitment process to appoint a Director for Wales.”)
IN FEBRUARY 2016 Ofcom Wales negotiated a contract with the high-powered lobbying firm Deryn Consulting.
Formed in 2011, the company is owned by Cathy Owens, a former advisor to the late Rhodri Morgan, and former Plaid Cymru Assembly Member Nerys Evans.
The contract was to provide the Cardiff office with “monitoring of proceedings, debates and Government announcement in Wales and UK-wide.”
The existence of the contract — which did not go out to tender — did not emerge until a year later.
Journalists began investigating and Plaid Cymru Assembly Member Neil McEvoy started to ask questions.
In February 2017 Western Mail chief reporter Martin Shipton published an article about the affair.
The piece revealed that Nerys Evans and Deryn chairman Huw Roberts were also members of Ofcom’s advisory committee for Wales.
Ofcom defended the awarding of the contract without going out to tender.
“able to provide a bespoke service tailored to suit the specific needs of Ofcom in Wales: so, for example, monitoring of National Assembly for Wales committees is provided immediately after committee sessions.”
Ofcom declined to reveal the value of the contract.
Assembly Member Neil McEvoy was not impressed.
He told the Western Mail:
“There are well-established rules for public procurement of goods and services.”
“But they’ve awarded a contract to Deryn, without any competition …”
“It’s impossible to know whether Deryn offered the public value for money since no other companies were able to bid for the contract, even though there is no shortage of such companies.”
“Overall, this is highly damaging to Ofcom’s reputation.”
“The person on the street is getting tired of the cosiness and the constant stitch-ups amongst the Welsh political elite.”
He asked Ofcom to investigate.
Ofcom moved quickly to scotch the scandal.
It immediately — but secretly — axed the contract and in October last year partially abandoned its defence of the process.
Ofcom’s Director of Corporate Services, Alison Crosland, wrote to Neil McEvoy to say she had reviewed how the contract was awarded.
“This concluded that the way the contract was awarded was not consistent with Ofcom’s required processes and a competitive procurement should have been undertaken.”
But she decided that patronage had played no part in the decision:
“The review concluded that the decision to procure the service was based on its usefulness, and the fact that employees of the supplier hold positions on the Advisory Committee had no bearing on the decision.”
“As a result of these findings,” she added, “those colleagues [responsible for the contract] will receive further training to ensure that procurement policies and procedures are followed properly in future.”
Rebecca understands “those colleagues” included Rhodri Williams and Elinor Williams.
The Ofcom contract was important to Deryn.
Shortly after the Ofcom contract was awarded in February 2016, Cathy Owens claimed “it’s been a spectacular few months for Deryn …”
2016 also proved successful financially.
Deryn was able to declare a dividend.
Cathy Owens received £78,000 and Nerys Evans £47,000 on top of their undisclosed salaries.
We approached Deryn for a comment but there was no reply by the time this article went to press.
IT’S NOT known when the affair between Rhodri Williams and Elinor Williams began.
It’s been common knowledge in Cardiff and London for many years.
They were known as “Mr and Mrs Williams” because her married name was also Williams.
He is 61, she’s 46.
They first met in the 1990s.
In 1994 he was editor of the S4C programme Heno when it covered a talent competition held by the Welsh-language magazine Golwg.
Golwg was looking for amateur models and one of the contestants was Elinor Williams.
In October 2003 — by now married to civil servant Geraint Williams — she was appointed Director of Marketing and Communications of the Welsh Language Board.
Rhodri Williams — then chairman of the Welsh Language Board — said:
“We are delighted that Elinor will be joining us at the board.”
Two months later, he was offered the post of Director, Ofcom Wales.
The salary was between £80,000 and £110,000.
(His then wife, Siân Helen, is a close friend of former Labour Assembly Member Delyth Evans.
Delyth Evans’ partner is Ed Richards, who had been a media policy editor advisor to Tony Blair
Richards was appointed deputy chief executive of Ofcom early in 2003 and later took the top job in 2005.
He was not involved in the appointment of Rhodri Williams.)
In 2007 Elinor Williams joined Ofcom as Communications Manager.
She was later promoted to Regulatory Affairs Manager.
Rebecca asked Ofcom if Rhodri Williams was involved in these appointments.
Ofcom told us:
“We do not discuss individual employee matters.”
In January 2012 Rhodri Williams moved to Ofcom’s London HQ to become acting UK Director, Government and Regulatory Affairs.
While he was away, Elinor Williams was promoted to acting Director of the Wales office.
There was no appointment process — Ofcom says the post was “back-filled”.
Applications for the post of Ofcom Director Wales, close on March 19.
This article was corrected on March 10. We stated that Elinor Williams was appointed Ofcom’s Regulatory Affairs Manager in 2007. In fact, that position was Communications Manager — she was later promoted to Regulatory Affairs Manager. Apologies for the error.
Published: 6 March 2018
THE SISTER OF THE WOMAN FROM AUNTIE
PATRONAGE AND NEPOTISM have long been features of broadcasting in Wales. The Rebecca investigation of BBC Wales — which already includes the articles The Son Of The Man From Uncle and In The Name Of The Father? — continues with a detailed analysis of the crisis that engulfed the Corporation between 2008 and 2011. The article examines the controversial relationship between former Director Menna Richards and her sister. The current regime — headed by Rhodri Talfan Davies, the son of former BBC boss Geraint Talfan Davies, and a family friend of Menna Richards — declines to answer questions on the affair …
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