Tuesday 25 October 2011

Transparency - One step forward and two steps back

I am pleased to see, courtesy of Alun Williams' blog, that Aberystwyth Town Council has made a small step into the world of transparency last night by allowing the BBC to film one of it's meetings;
Carmarthenshire County Council may wish to note that all the Councillors present made it out alive and unscathed.

With transparency in mind, or lack of it, I note that next Monday's Executive Board meeting of Carmarthenshire Council has a couple of items of note. They are, of course, 'exempt' and will be discussed away from the prying eyes of the public and press. Hence the 'two steps back' in the title of this post. 
The first concerns a 'proposed capital loan' to the speculative Excel Project in Carmarthen. I have mentioned this before (The Council works in mysterious ways), mainly because this project, involving a bowling alley, and run by an American based evangelical organisation, the Towy Community Church, has already had £55,000 of council grants; £45,000 grant from Cwm Environmental (subsidiary company of the council most recently mentioned here); the benefit of the council owned land worth £750,000 as well as a direct cash grant from the council of £280,000 earlier this year, this was while frontline services were being axed due to budget cuts (and of course the council's social care budget is currently in the red to the tune of £2.2 million). The Towy Community church did manage to raise £17,000 themselves towards this £2.2m project, so on that sound financial basis I am sure that the loan (amount not specified) will be approved and no doubt, at a later date, quietly converted to a grant.

The second 'exempt' item concerns the next possible white elephant looming on the council's financial horizon, the former Technium Centre at Dafen, Llanelli. This was a Welsh Assembly venture closed last year after being branded a failure and a complete waste of money. In July it was announced that the Council had taken it over with a nominal lease with a view to buying it - the idea being that it becomes an business 'hub' to 'incubate' young people into the workplace. For some reason, I do not share Meryl Gravell's optimism in the likely success of yet another 'visionary' project but I do not wish to put a dampener on things - and the first step to success would be complete transparency, and it is unclear by the agenda what is even being discussed.

I am sure the Council legal team have come up with valid reasons for the secrecy of the discussions but I have a feeling that the reasoning is more to do with concealing the questionable use of public money rather than to spare the blushes of interested parties. This council always seems to forget that other 'interested party' - the taxpayer. 
Incidentally, this blog has had sight of the 'Exempt Report' from May when the lease and earlier grant to the Towy Community Church was approved, there was no reason, as far as I can see for this not to have been discussed in public. Rather like the various deals benefiting the Botanic Gardens, the Parc y Scarlets stadium etc etc the amount of public money concerned and the ongoing financial risks associated with these projects (or 'visions' as they are known in County Hall) warrant complete transparency.
Update; on the subject of stadiums I had noticed another request for cash from the Scarlets, this, as a commenter below points out, will not even have to be approved by full council. I am lost for words. The Evening Post picks up the story today;


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this. I have been concerned for months about the amount of (our) cash going to the Towy Community Church. As far as I can see there will be virtually no benefit to the people of Carmarthenshire. Could the council explain why they are giving so much money to this particular church?

Tessa said...

I had issue with the town council I served on mis-using "in camera" to exclude the public from anything that may have been embarrassing to the council or councillors. Looks like the County do similar. Here's a link to CCC's policy:- http://online.carmarthenshire.gov.uk/cccapps/documents/constitution/Part4-2.pdf - and I can't see how this could ever be interpreted to be able to exclude the public from discussions.

Lliedi said...

The full Agenda for this meeting is here:- http://online.carmarthenshire.gov.uk/agendas/eng/EXEB20111031/index.asp


Recommendation to grant £20,000 to the Scarlets to fund another manager!

Exec Board Decision Required - YES , Council Decision Required – NA

Another request for a handout from the Scarlets, and the Exec Board aren’t even going to ask the Full Council.

caebrwyn said...

@ecopolitics Indeed, it's a mystery. The site also had a covenant limiting it's use to office, industrial or distribution (B1, B2, &B8 uses)and required WAG to grant change of use. Clearly, by now, this must have been done although I can find no record of this, or whather the site was then independently revalued.

@Tessa interesting post on this subject from Y Cneifiwr; http://cneifiwr-emlyn.blogspot.com/2011/07/keeping-things-under-wraps-part-2.html

caebrwyn said...

@Lliedi I had indeed noticed the Scarlet's application. I was somewhat lost for words. If anyone cares to read the report I imagine they will be too. Still, I am sure one can never have enough 'capacity builders'. You may notice, (and are probably already aware) from this post; http://carmarthenplanning.blogspot.com/2011/10/just-ticket.html (and several previous posts too)
that there's quite a lot of interest in the stadium and it's hospitality; I just hope the same level of support is offered should Carmarthenshire come up with an olympic tiddlywinks team.
By the way, I hope to be at the meeting myself on Monday to observe.