Sunday 15 January 2012

Council fined £3000 by Ombudsman....and FoI updates

As yet another disastrous week for Carmarthenshire Council passes by, featuring a fourth mention in Private Eye, forcing a child to sign the bizarre 'filming undertaking' and accusations of misuse of council resources, the £3000 fine for maladministration from the Ombudsman was not much of a morale booster. The upheld complaint, coming just days after the Council's social care service won some quango based award, concerned a catalogue of failure to adequately house a disabled man, a failure to recognise it's statutory social care duties to the complainant, and consequently his human rights. 
The South Wales Evening Post ran the story , the Ombudsman provides a summary and a link to the full report.
Here's an extract from the report to give you the gist;

"The Council was aware that it had allocated Mr M a property where he had no access to a toilet or washing facilities and, in its view, there would be problems for Mr M getting in and out of the property. The Occupational Therapist has stated in his evidence that any attempt by Mr M to get up the stairs, if indeed he could manage it at all, to access the bathroom would have entailed a high degree of risk. The lack of access to basic facilities at home can only have had a detrimental impact on his dignity and wellbeing. The Council appeared content to allow Mr M to continue to live in these difficult circumstances [for three years] until he agreed to move. I find this wholly unacceptable"

I have also had a couple of Freedom of Information responses which may be of interest. Firstly I asked about the shared IT services with Dyfed Powys Police. According to the response a 'merger', as such, hasn't taken place - all that's happened is the Council's Head of IT has had the boot/retired and the police and the council, to cut costs I suppose, are going 50/50 on the wages of a shared Head. I was particularly interested as to how the sharing of these two large and particularly sensitive IT systems was going to happen, and how the implications of data protection and security arrangements would be considered and managed. Judging by the response, the council haven't got round to thinking about that just yet, (or even whether any council powers delegated to the Head of IT, now rest with Dyfed Powys police) - but I imagine this step would not have been taken without the full intention of providing a shared service.

The other request concerned Cwm Environmental Ltd, a subsidiary company of the Council (mentioned several times, here, here and here) Cwm handles the waste management concerns/strategy of the Council. The Council informed me that they did not hold the information but would pass on my request to Cwm. I then I had an immediate, response from Cwm. As the Council holds all the shares but Cwm is a company in it's own right, FoI enters a slightly grey area. With Councils accross the UK outsourcing services to private companies, whether they should be subject to the same FoI and Data Protection legislation is becoming a bit of an issue. Anyhow, here's the link;
I don't think it was a particularly 'full' response and my request for information about grants seems to have been misunderstood. The Cwm website clearly shows the list of organisations who have recieved grants amounting to over £250,000 for 2010 - the FoI response has this figure at £1433. With all the projects presumably funded out of the Landfill Tax, it is unclear whether this lesser figure is a seperate pot - perhaps I should have asked specifically about the 'Cwm Community and Environmental Fund' - I thought, not unreasonably, that the word 'grants' might have covered it. Unsuccessful bids for grant funding have not been included either. I have asked for clarification. I also asked about the registered interests of the directors, I have been given a brief list but on further checking, I notice one of the named individuals is also a company secretary of the 'Carmarthen Masonic Building Company Ltd' - this is omitted from the response.

Lastly, followers of the Towy Community Church/bowling alley saga (please search blog) will know that they recieved a grant from Cwm. The figure given by Cwm Environmental is £50,000, but for some reason, both 'exempt reports' presented to the Council in May and November 2011 have the grant at £45,000. A £5000 discrepancy somewhere. Whilst I'm on the subject this organisation also received (amongst the whole funding package) £25,000 from the Rural Development Plan - which is EU money aimed at improving access to services and regenerating rural/agricultural areas of Wales - in this case the fund specifically paid for 'one and a half bowling lanes' in the urban area of Johnstown, Carmarthen. Another grant was £25,000 from the Council's 'Sustainable Communities Tourism Fund' - set up to;
"develop and safeguard local legends, history, culture, art and language to inform visitors of the county’s distinctiveness, and also to maintain the character of Carmarthenshire for its residents." (Council Tourism Manager)
“This fund will promote awareness and pride in the environment and cultural heritage of the area. Carmarthenshire is such a diverse county, and we have many stories, myths and legends which all make for fantastic tourism potential.” (Executive Board Member Cllr Scourfield)

I can only assume that the phrase 'strict criteria' is slightly more flexible than we think when it comes to grant awards. It  is quite amazing how resourceful even an evangelical bowling alley can be when attracting public money, and even more amazing is the generosity of our Council for awarding it.


Cneifiwr said...

The industrial estate of Johnstown on the southern fringe of Carmarthen would scarcely be regarded as rural by any sane individual.

And as you point out, the words "culture", "myths" and "legends" are not the first things that spring to mind when you think about a bowling alley on a grim suburban industrial estate.

Anonymous said...

best not organise a school trip to a council meeting then ... by the time everyone's signed the undertaking all the 'fun' will be over !!

Anonymous said...

if a council gets fined, who pays the fine? (anon2)

Tessa said...

One would have assumed Cwm Environmental, as a council tip, would be a service - costs to cover it. But well done with your probing, Jacqui - it is clear that Cwm is there to make profits. And having the monopoly on refuse disposal (I think) it can't fail. So the objectives of the company seem to be those of making money and awarding grants - which seems odd for a council owned body.

Anonymous said...

council gets fined..the money has obviously got to come from somewhere. either it gets borrowed and added onto the next year's council taxpayers or some part of a service gets cut to pay for it. or worst, lay off some staff or cut their hours.. something has to go without to pay it

why did it get fined? or should i say, how did it get itself into a position to get fined??