Thursday, 7 April 2016

April Agenda - and Country Park questions

Later post 13th April, after the meeting; April shower...and the long grass 

* * *

Next Wednesday's (13th April) full council agenda has been published and whilst there are no questions from the public, there are a handful of questions and Motions from councillors. None, I note, relating to the extraordinary business over the exempt report from the last Executive Board meeting.

One issue which has been raised is the damning internal audit report into the facilities at Pembrey Country Park and the Millennium Coast. I mentioned this here, following the Audit Committee meeting a couple of weeks ago. The findings ranged from accounting improprieties to procurement issues and a general failure to follow procedure, quite a mess in fact.

This whole debacle was presented to the Audit Committee in the form of a brief two page summary, without the full report, which presumably detailed what had happened to arrive at these findings.
As I also said in my previous post, I have been hearing horror stories about these facilities for a couple of years and this report raises the question of how long senior management have been involved or at least aware of the 'historic issues'.
As we know, the council has plans to offload the whole leisure department, along with the parks, into a trust..or sell them off, either will do...

The Labour opposition group have tabled a Motion for the full report be made publicly available, for it to be referred to the police to see if there's been criminal wrongdoing, and to the Wales Audit Office to check for financial irregularities.
The Exec Board member, Cllr Dai Jenkins will also be asked whether or not he's actually seen the full report and how much public money is at risk and/or missing.

I suspect there will be a considerable amount of internal legal advice imparted over all this, of the 'incompetent and cavalier' variety to which we are so accustomed. I strongly suggest that the Plaid leadership put away the whitewash for once, join in the call for full transparency and support this motion.

The second issue sees Labour members Bill Thomas and Jan Williams demand evidence from Cllr Meryl Gravell (Ind) to back up her allegations that local residents and local politicians 'scuppered' a 2012 bid for Lottery funding. They claim to hold evidence to the contrary. They also want to know why Meryl failed to submit a second bid for funding in 2014.

Despite this cropping up at the previous two meetings, along with Meryl's 'That is what I was told and I stand by it' comment, nothing has appeared in the minutes. Now at least it will be on the record. She will be asked who told her and when, and whether she was given any documentary evidence to back it up. Hopefully they'll be ready with a supplementary question.

Also on the agenda is a mysterious reference to Tai Cantref Housing Association. This is an 'exempt' report so the webcast will be switched off. It also features (also exempt) on the agenda for Monday's Executive Board meeting, in fact it's the only item. There is nothing to indicate what is being decided. (See update below)

The housing association supplies social housing in Ceredigion and north Carmarthenshire and has over 1400 properties, mostly in Ceredigion with only 170 in Carms. However, the Welsh Government stepped in last summer and commissioned a full report following allegations from whistleblowers relating to mismanagement, procurement issues and the treatment of staff.
Despite the WG taking this unusually serious step, they subcontracted the intervention to a private company

That report has never, to my knowledge, been made publicly available and its release refused by the Welsh Government on the grounds that it could  “destabilise the association” and “prejudice its commercial interests”, but after the report was completed in December last year, the chief officer of the Association was placed on 'leave' whilst the findings were considered.

At the beginning of March the chief officer left and the Chairman of the board stepped down, a couple of weeks later the Association announced it was 'seeking a merger' and would be 'engaging with potential partners'.

At the end of March urgent calls were then being made, from Plaid AM Elin Jones, and the tenants, were for a public consultation prior to any merger

All of which suggests that things are far from healthy at Cantref. One can only guess at what our Exec Board and Council will decide. Presumably, in light of a possible take-over, the sizeable amount of public cash it receives as a social landlord, as well as the still-unseen Welsh Government report, it will be reviewing the Council's current arrangements with the Association.

Hopefully it won't be a decision to take over Cantref and thereby have one basket case absorbed by another.

Incidentally, the interim director brought in to run Cantref for the time being is the current CEO of Carmarthen-based Bro Myrddin Housing Association, who is also the sister of Exec Board Member Hazel Evans (Plaid). Although Cllr H Evans declares an interest, fortunately her portfolio is not housing. The housing portfolio is held by Exec Board Cllr Linda Evans, who happens to be Cllr Dole's sister-in-law. It's a small world here in Carmarthenshire.

As the end of another municipal year draws to a close, the meeting will also see the quaint Carmarthenshire tradition of 'nominating the Chair of Council'. This doesn't involve anything democratic, and doesn't even require any ability. The only criteria for the reward is years of loyalty to the regime.

Labour, Plaid and Pam's Independent Party take it in turns each year to be Chair, (£21,500 plus expenses), so the current Labour Vice Chair will replace Plaid's Peter Hughes Griffiths as Chair, and the new Vice Chair will be selected from the Independent ranks, if any are awake. You can look forward to the full blown ceremony at next month's AGM.
Can't wait.

Update 12th April - As suggested in the comments section it appears that the council are considering a merger with Tai Cantref, there is more over on Jac o the North's blog. Whatever the Executive Board recommended will be discussed at tomorrow's council meeting as an exempt item.
There is some speculation as to whether a merger with a council is legal, and financially the council will be saddled with trying to turn round a failing housing association with the majority if its homes in another county.
It also seems that Carmarthenshire Council is not the only bidder.


Anonymous said...

I double dare Bill Thomas to nominate Sian Caiach!

Anonymous said...

With so many taxpayers now abandoning Plaid, you would think they would grab the bull by the horns, stand together and rid this council of the toxic culture that is so obvious. It could be their salvation, but they seem hell bent on destroying themselves.

Anonymous said...

Would CCC be so daft as to buy into a debt ridden, failing housing association whose stock is mainly in Ceredigion? Will it dump its own council housing into this company or is this like the "investment"in the Scarlets, pouring public money into a failing organisation?

caebrwyn said...

Anon 17:34
Surely they wouldn't be so foolish...would they?

Anonymous said...

Yes they would.

caebrwyn said...

Interesting comment regarding Tai Cantref from 'Dai the post' on 8th April on Jac o the North's blog here - if true, it seems like Carmarthenshire Council are indeed planning a take-over of Cantref...

Anonymous said...

They want to use Tai Cantref as a vehicle to privatise the council housing stock.

Anonymous said...

No they do not want to use Housing Association to privatise its stock There is some rubbish discussed on this site. CARMS has a large housing stock , well administered and tenants prefer to deal with it than the Housing Association which are not democratically accountable . in fact Ceredigion & Pembs put all their houses to a Housing Association which is not in financial trouble but has lost its way through poor governance issues and has been put in special measures by WG and needs to be rescued

Anonymous said...

If it doesn't have enough democratic accountability now, I very much doubt it's rescuer will come in the form of CCC...