RHODRI WILLIAMS left his post as Director of the Wales Office of the broadcasting regulator Ofcom on March 31.
No reason has been given for his decision to give up the job — which pays more than £120,000 a year — at the age of 62.
Ofcom remains tight-lipped about the issue.
The watchdog would not say if the move was connected to the scandal surrounding a controversial contract.
The contract was awarded to the political lobbying firm Deryn — which includes leading figures from both Labour and Plaid Cymru — without going out to tender.
Initially, Ofcom defended it.
But it later admitted the Cardiff Office had broken its own procurement rules — and announced that several “colleagues” would be given “further training”.
The regulator declined to say if Rhodri Williams was one of these.
Ofcom also declined to say if Elinor Wiliiams, the number 2 at the Cardiff Bay office, was another.
Ofcom also declines to comment on speculation that Elinor Williiams — the wife of Rhodri Williams — will replace him as Director.
This article updates the article published on March 6 — The Mistress Of The Man From Ofcom.
RHODRI WILLIAMS quietly cleared his office at Ofcom Wales at the end of March.
There was no press release announcing his departure — and the regulator was silent about who would hold the post while a successor was sought.
The obvious candidate is the Wales Office No 2, Elinor Williams, the Regulatory Affairs Manager.
She married Rhodri Williams last year — before that she’d been his mistress for many years.
(In 2012, when Rhodri Williams moved to London to become temporary Director of Government and Regulatory Affairs, Elinor Williams stepped in as acting Director Wales.
RHODRI WILLIAMS leaves Ofcom in unexplained circumstances. The watchdog would not give any reason for his departure and simply said: “ … we wish him all the best for the future.” Williams has at least four pensions to fall back on but with extensive links to the Labour Party it’s unlikely his career in the public sector is over. He has a chequered past: gaoled in the 1970s for his part in the campaign to create a Welsh TV channel, he later tried to become a media tycoon in the 1990s. It was in this period he acquired the nickname “billions”. He was forced to leave the independent production company Tinopolis in 2001 after he was accused of diverting a valuable contract to a rival business. His career is explored in the article A Man Of Conviction? and Rebecca editor Paddy French makes a declaration of interest in A Licence To Censor.
On that occasion, here was no formal appointment process.
The post was “back-filled”, as Ofcom put it, with Elinor Williams taking control of the Cardiff office.)
On April 3 the Ofcom Wales website was still showing Rhodri Williams as Director and Elinor Williams as his No 2.
Rebecca asked Ofcom what was happening.
The next day the watchdog told us the page had been amended.
This now stated that Ofcom’s Northern Ireland Director Jonathan Rose was the acting Wales Director.
But the entry for Elinor Williams had been altered.
Her picture had vanished — and her job title had changed.
Previously, she was Regulatory Affairs Manager.
This is in line with the practice in both the Scotland and Northern Ireland offices.
On April 4 the website listed her title as Principal, Regulatory Affairs.
When we queried this, Ofcom would only say that Elinor Williams had been appointed to “Principal” level back in 2013.
A spokesman added:
“Rhodri Williams was not a member of the promotion panel nor did he provide a reference.”
We asked Ofcom if the change in her title was accompanied by an increase in salary.
The regulator told us:
“We don’t disclose such personal information.”
OFCOM HAS declined to answer further questions about the relationship between Rhodri Williams and Elinor Williams — and about the controversial Deryn contract.
In March Rebecca submitted a Freedom of Information request on these issues.
We asked if Rhodri Williams was involved when Elinor Williams first joined Ofcom as Communications Manager in November 2007.
“We apply retention and deletion procedures to the information Ofcom holds in order to comply with relevant data protection laws and therefore, we no longer hold any information related to this appointment.”
Ofcom also declined to give details of Rhodri Williams’ severance package:
ELINOR WILLIAMS, the current No 2 at Ofcom Wales, is the best placed candidate to succeed her husband Rhodri Williams. After joining the watchdog as communications manager in 2007, she was the main beneficiary of a major reorganisation in 2011. Hywel Wiliam, the head of broadcasting and telecommunications, left the regulator after his post was axed. Elinor Williams was promoted to the new post of Regulatory Affairs Manager. In 2012 she replaced Rhodri Williams as acting Director when he was seconded to Ofcom HQ in London. In 2013 her post was regraded to principal level — attracting a salary in the range £60-£120,000.
“We are unable to provide any information concerning the arrangements under which Rhodri Williams left Ofcom as its disclosure would contravene data protection principles …”
Ofcom also declined to answer questions about the controversial Deryn contract.
This was awarded in February 2016 to provide the Cardiff office with “monitoring of proceedings, debates and Government announcements in Wales and UK-wide.”
It did not go out to competitive tender.
Two board members of Deryn — former Plaid Cymru Director of Strategy Nerys Evans and former Labour Party spin doctor Huw Roberts — were also serving on Ofcom’s advisory committee for Wales.
The contract did not become public until February 2017 when Western Mail journalist Martin Shipton and Plaid Cymru politician Neil McEvoy started to ask questions.
Initially, Ofcom defended the contract because Deryn were “able to provide a bespoke service tailored to suit the specific needs of Ofcom in Wales …”
But Ofcom axed the contract and carried out an internal review.
In October 2017 the review found that “the way the contract was awarded was not consistent with Ofcom’s required processes and a competitive procurement should have been undertaken.”
It added that several members of staff — unnamed — were to receive “further training”.
Rebecca asked if Ofcom HQ in London was consulted about the contract.
Ofcom didn’t answer the question.
The watchdog also declined to reveal the value of the contract.
“Releasing the fees paid for this work would, or would be likely to, prejudice Deryn’s commercial interests and would, or would be likely prejudice, the commercial interests of Ofcom.”
“It would prejudice Ofcom’s bargaining position in any future contract negotiations for similar monitoring services.”
Ofcom did add:
“We would like to highlight that the value of the contract is not significant.“
Rebecca has appealed the decision.
We noted that the Deryn contract was:
” — a one-off negotiation which took place without any competitive tender
— as such, any prices cannot impact — practically or theoretically — either Deryn’s or Ofcom’s commercial interests
— all other later contracts would be subject to competitive tender and the price paid for the Deryn contract would be seen to be clearly irrelevant to all bidders.
The reason for Ofcom’s decision [not to release the value of the contract] … is to spare both Deryn and itself the embarrassment of having been caught out in a clandestine ‘sweetheart deal’.”
The fact that two Deryn board members — Huw Roberts and Nerys Evans — were, at the same time, … members of the Advisory Committee for Wales only deepens suspicion.”
Ofcom did reveal that Huw Roberts and Nerys Evans were paid £3,000 a year while they were members of the Advisory Committee.
IN JANUARY Ofcom Wales welcomed a new member of staff.
Lloyd Watkins joined the organisation as its Regulatory Affairs Advisor in January 2018.
Ofcom included a biography on its Wales page.
“Before joining Ofcom, Lloyd worked in a variety of roles; most recently as a campaign officer for Bridgend Labour Party at the Pencoed Labour Constituency Office and for various Assembly Members …”
Rebecca asked Ofcom if this post had been advertised, the relevant salary and Lloyd Watkins’ regulatory experience.
Ofcom declined to answer these questions.
We also asked if Rhodri Williams — a Labour supporter — had been involved in the process.
We added that Lloyd Watkins’ CV:
“ … does make it clear that he has worked extensively for the Labour Party.
“This appointment is likely to provoke comments to the effect that this is a political appointment to favour the Labour Party.”
“How does Ofcom respond to that charge?”
An Ofcom spokesman said:
“I am concerned that you will suggest, wrongly, that we have made a political appointment.”
FORMER LABOUR spin doctor Cathy Owens is the major shareholder in the political lobbying firm Deryn Consulting. She formed the company in 2011 after a period working as Rhodri Morgan’s media adviser. Civil servants complained about her abrasive style and she stepped down shortly after she accidentally left a message on Western Mail reporter Martin Shipton’s mobile phone describing journalists as “bastards”.
He added that Rebecca was:
“… making unsubstantiated claims regarding the appointment of Lloyd Watkins, who is a junior colleague on a fixed-term 12 month contract covering a maternity leave.”
“If you do plan to make such accusations, I will need a right of reply before [Ofcom’s emphasis] you publish given the seriousness of such an allegation.”
Ofcom declined to answer any of our questions about the appointment process.
We asked again but all the spokesman would say was:
“Ofcom is scrupulously impartial, and our track record shows that.”
“We make all our decisions without fear or favour, and free from any political influence.”
“All Ofcom appointments are made on their merits and any suggestion to the contrary is completely inaccurate.”
On April 4, Lloyd Watkins’ Ofcom Wales biography was amended.
His previous employment with the Labour Party had been removed.
LAST WEEK Rebecca continued to press Ofcom to reveal more information about Elinor Williams and the appointment of Lloyd Watkins.
We submitted a request that the regulator answer a further 13 questions.
The same day the watchdog’s director of communications Chris Wynn wrote to say:
“I regret to say that I have taken the view that this request … is unreasonable.”
“You are of course welcome to submit your questions via FOI [Freedom of Information] where we will happily respond in line with our normal procedures.
“I would also like to put on record that you do not make unsubstantiated allegations against Ofcom members of staff and that you approach your article fairly and accurately within the boundaries of what you know to be facts, and not supposition.”
“Until now, I have helped you as much as possible but this now goes beyond what I believe is acceptable.”
However, when Rebecca made it clear this article would include the appointment of Lloyd Watkins, Chris Wynn told us:
“The post was advertised externally.”
This was one of the questions he’d previously told us were “unreasonable.”
Meanwhile, Ofcom is not saying when — or even if — a new Director Wales will be announced …
Published: 9 May 2018
© Rebecca 2018
If you would like to support the work of Rebecca, you can do so by clicking on the DONATE button.
Please let us know if there are any mistakes in this article — they’ll be corrected as soon as possible.
RIGHT OF REPLY
If you have been mentioned in this article and disagree with it, please let us have your comments. Provided your response is not defamatory we’ll add it to the article.