Monday, 28 September 2015

Council overvalued assets by £38m...and other news

Further to my previous post, the Auditor's report on the Statement of Accounts has now appeared on the agenda for Wednesday's Audit Committee. 

The report states that the council has overrated some of it's assets to the tune of £38.5m. This includes an overvaluation of three sports pitches by whopping £19m. The Auditor has identified 'significant weaknesses' in the council's approach to asset valuation and has indicated that in future, the Wales Audit Office may bring in external valuers rather than rely on the council's own.

Of greater significance is the fact that there are currently several plans, or 'Asset Transfers', going through for town or community councils to take over local parks, sports pitches etc from the county council. Given the auditors remarks, that valuations need to be 'documented and correct', I would suggest that before they sign on the dotted line, these smaller councils get a second opinion... they wouldn't want to fall victim to creative accounting...

On a separate issue, during a sample test of asset ownership, the council could not supply any evidence that it was the owner of the Carmarthen Community Education Centre worth over half a million quid. They're currently hunting for the paperwork...

In another sample test the auditor recommended urgent action after finding that the council had been breaching it's own Contract Rules by paying for external IT support contracts in advance, two were worth around £70,000.
If faults such as these are coming up in 'sample tests', I dread to think what the full picture might be.

The Auditor also recommended that the council should take a closer look at using some of it's reserves (£122m) to ease the cuts to public services.
As I said the other day, this was exactly what Plaid had proposed when in opposition in Feburary. It was a bit disappointing to watch the Executive Board webcast today and see the very same Cllr Jenkins make no reference to his words from February, even including a specific warning about using reserves. Quite a u-turn, again.

Whilst I'm on the subject of the webcast, (all very cosy, even Meals on Wheels were scrapped without a murmur) the executive board also approved the decision to offload the leisure services to an external trust.

I use the word 'decision' loosely, as it was actually decided months ago. This was clearly illustrated by Meryl's introduction of the plan as a gift from heaven rather than as an objective appraisal.

The chief executive then joined in to crush potential future dissent by waxing lyrical over the inclusion of possible new Leisure centre for Llanelli in the tender. He informed the Board that this might not be just any old Leisure Centre though, this could possibly be a 'Wellness Centre'. The difference in cost was £16m (£9m from the council) for the former, and £60m (amount from the council not divulged) for the latter.

Mr James mentioned various vague EU grant pots, cash from the Health Board (which has so much to spare dosh of course..) and even the involvement (not defined) of the Swansea Bay City Region Board. All in all the chief executive though it was "incredibly exciting"...

Hard pressed Carmarthenshire taxpayers be warned; the Parc Y Scarlets Stadium, and before that, the Boston Sports Arena were similarly described as 'incredibly exciting' by Mr James...turned out they were just incredibly expensive. I'd keep him well away...

Cllr Derek Cundy (Lab) almost spoiled the cosy and agreeable atmosphere by exercising his newly given right for backbench councillors to ask questions at Executive Board meetings. He wondered, with all the excitement, what was to become of the less commercially viable parts of the Leisure department which were not included in this 'trust'; the museums, libraries, archives etc?
That was an 'entirely different thing' said Meryl, who clearly had no idea.

Back again to the Audit report and for the fourth year running, the auditor is highly critical of the council's ability to properly manage grants, including those EU schemes (see previous post 'Absent report') with which they've had such, er, trouble.

Significantly, but not surprisingly, the auditor's warning is not aimed at a particular department but to 'Those charged with Governance', which goes back to the dismal way this council is run;

"...For a number of years we have reported weaknesses within the Council’s grants management processes. Internal Audit has already issued a critical report on the Council’s management of the Welsh Government’s Supporting People grant to the July 2015 Audit Committee. Our 2014-15 grants work is in its early stages but we have again identified concerns regarding some of the WEFO European grant schemes..." 


Anonymous said...

Where does one start? My wife and I celebrated our Golden Wedding last week and decided with some family members to visit the much heralded the Glacial Lake Llyn y Fan. We followed the road signs and had to negotiate with extreme care the road leading eventually to a not very large car park. That road is a total disgrace and could so easily cause major damage to any car trying to avoid the many deep pot holes. There then is a mile and a half trek up hill to the lake itself. Not really suitable for push chairs and certainly not suitable for disabled users. Carmarthen County Council it would seem do not want to encourage visitors to this very special site. Perhaps MARK JAMES AND HIS EXECUTIVE TEAM SHOULD MAKE THE TRIP IN THEIR OWN VEHICLES IN ORDER TO REALLY APPRECIATE THE PROBLEM OF ACCESS.

Today we decided to go to Pendine as the weather was so good and the tide would be out for most of the day. When we arrived we were informed that parking was restricted to the small car park near the road The rest of the parking including the beach was closed to public parking as 20th.Century Fox Film Company were filming for three days. We were still expected to pay the full rate for parking and therefor had to carry . chairs/buggy/picnic etc. to the beach. Surely the Council could afford to waive the charge for this short period of inconvenience.. I have to say that the weekend will be remembered for all the wrong reasons. Shame on you Carmarthen County Council given the many thousands of pounds of public money squandered on "pet projects".

Cneifiwr said...

The council has form when it comes to claiming ownership of assets. In Newcastle Emlyn a few years ago it built a residential care home on part of some land which turned out to have been gifted not to the county council but the people of the town for use as playing fields.

At the time the playing fields and the swings, slides, etc. on them were in a truly dire state. Not a penny could be found in County Hall to pay for the replacement of the rusting and broken fixtures, and so the money was raised by a volunteer group.

No compensation for the appropriated land was forthcoming either.

Anonymous said...

Parc y Scarlets a joint 'Wellness Centre'?