The future of Welsh finance minister Edwina Hart was uncertain this week following accusations from Richard Rogers Partnership that she misled the assembly over the outcome of a legal dispute about unpaid fees. Hart and RRP have offered conflicting reports of the legal adjudication finding, which the finance minister finally made available to disgruntled assembly members on Friday.
Hart had told the assembly earlier in the week that the findings clearly pointed the finger at Lord Rogers, who 'effectively got it wrong' in his handling of the assembly project. However, the adjudicator's report, seen by the AJ, clears RRP of accusations of negligence. And in the latest twist to 'Edwinagate', Hart's office was denying suggestions, as the AJ went to press, that first minister Rhodri Morgan had asked her to give up the post of finance minister and take over the economic development portfolio - considered a demotion. If true, it indicates a change of heart from Morgan who earlier in the week had dismissed Hart's critics within the assembly as 'headless chickens coming home to roost'.
The adjudication, initiated by RRP in December and concluded on 7 February, awarded the practice £448,086 in fees outstanding after it was unceremoniously sacked from the Assembly building project.
The adjudicator also dismissed Hart's £6.9 million negligence counterclaim against the practice. The adjudicator stated: 'I am satisfied that NAW's case on misrepresentation is not proven in any respect.'
News of the adjudication decision only emerged last week when Hart was forced to respond to questions from the assembly. In a statement, Hart persisted with the claim that fault remained with RRP, despite the adjudicator's decision to award in favour of the architect. In response, RRP responded with an e-mail to assembly members disputing the claims. 'The statement made by Edwina Hart to the assembly members this morning does not fairly and accurately represent the findings of the adjudicator, ' the e-mail stated. 'RRP are completely satisfied with the adjudicator's decision.'
Hart now faces calls from Tory members to resign her ministerial position over her 'blatant and misleading comments'. The leader of the Welsh Conservative party, Nick Bourne AM, said: 'Edwina Hart's position as minister for finance is now truly untenable. It is now time she did the decent thing and resign her ministerial position.'
Director of the Royal Society of Architects in Wales Mary Wrenn said she hoped the result of the incident would be the reinstatement of Lord Rogers to the project. 'We have got to hope this situation will end up with Rogers building the building he designed, ' she said, 'which would be the best outcome for everyone.'
The adjudication also established the assembly's copyright to the design of the building. It is currently choosing between a number of bids from consortia hoping to take over the project. RRP has teamed up with Taylor Woodrow and Arup to enter the race in a final attempt to remain involved.
See AJ Plus for the full adjudication.