Wednesday 28 September 2011

Round of Golf? That'll be £200k please...and other news

I see from today's Carmarthen Journal that the council have finally, after a year, managed to offload the failing Garnant Golf Club after rejecting 23 other offers. It hasn't come cheap and will cost the taxpayer £200,000 over three years;

'as part of its 25-year lease, Clay's will not pay rent for six years, and give back a percentage of the profits after that. The council is to pay the company £80,000 a year for the first two years, and £40,000 the third, which is what it estimates running costs at the club will be'

It makes you wonder what possessed them to build it in the first place but that was back in the heady days of 1992  - maybe there are more appropriate places than the golf course to conduct council business these days - rugby stadiums perhaps?

I see that our Council Leader, Cllr M Gravell is fretting about the £2 million overspend in the social care department. So concerned is she that she is taking the unprecedented step of appealing to the Plaid group in the council for 'ideas' on how to deal with it. So unprecedented is this plea that one feels slightly suspicious that political tactics are afoot. With Meryl's worries that Plaid may make gains in next years local elections, and the retirement of Executive Board member Cllr Hugh Evans announced today, her hold on the Executive Board may be under threat - what better way to avoid such a catastrophe than to lovingly embrace the opposition in preparation for another Meryl Gravell administration. Maybe a better deal on the golf club may have helped or perhaps a rethink over the £200,000 going to the Botanic Garden over the next couple of years or even the £1m to the evangelical bowling alley. To name but three.

The continuing pattern of offloading council services by bunging a few quid in the direction of community councils or the 'third sector' (or 'local volunteers' as they're known) continues apace. As they wash their hands of the public toilets, the elderly day centres, luncheon clubs and the libraries (and credit goes to local people who have taken over the responsibilites)  it looks, from the next education scrutiny meeting, like the mobile library service could be under threat. I do not doubt that a review of the service is probably a good idea - to make it better of course, but once they use words such as 'streamlining' and 're-structuring' you can guess what's happening;
'There are currently five mobile libraries within the fleet; continued sustainability at the current level will need to be considered'. And there's that word 'sustainable' again.
Personally, I don't think Carmarthenshire County Council, in it's present form, is sustainable - but who listens to me...
It would be a pity in this largely rural county with it's scattered remote hamlets to lose a service like this. I am sure they are aware of their legal obligations under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 to '..provide a comprehensive and efficient library service for all persons desiring to make use thereof...'
There's a several legal challenges to library closures around at the moment and I am sure the council wouldn't want that.

I though perhaps Carmarthenshire Council may have celebrated International Right To Know Day by answering my most recent FoI request. Already two weeks late, it looks like I'll have to wait a few more days. But I have just heard my Subject Access Request is complete, (for information held about myself) but because of the quantity, I have to go to County Hall to pick it up, I shall go on Friday. Something for the weekend.
The subject of the FoI is to request the registers of business or other interests for senior council officers. Such openness is of course vitally important to ensure that the public have faith and trust in those charged with spending our money, there's nothing like a national scandal involving 'vested interests' to further erode the remaining scraps of faith lingering in our establishments.
My FoI request is not to 'expose' wrongdoing, but to continue to encourage an embryonic culture of openness, progress is being made in a scattering of English councils including Leeds amd Bolton. How much happier I would be to know that all is above board to start with, when, for example, the Council embark on their latest search for several construction firms to join the £100m four year 'framework' agreement; and delegated power is given to officers to award Assembly/euro business investment grants to the tune of £35,000 rather than, as previously, £5000.

I have been meaning to mention for some time just how lucky this council is compared to the London Borough of Barnet with it's small army of determined bloggers trying, with considerable success, to winkle out the usually elusive concepts of transparency and accountablility from their local authority. At least they have the presumption of 'localism' and Pickles-style council 'transparency' agenda on their side - something we could do with in Wales. Anyway, Carmarthenshire Council have little to worry about - so far. There are only a couple of us at the moment and they managed to have one of us locked up...and then locked out. Let's all take a lesson from the feisty Barnet bloggers and get writing!!
I particularly like Mrs Angry's letter to Mr Pickles; If you're interested, have a search for them and be inspired!

1 comment:

between-the-lines said...

Sorry to be a poor, dim-witted council tax payer, but why is a council paying business-people £80k pa to run a business?