Tuesday 19 August 2014

Meryl's Meetings

Individual Executive Board Member Decision meetings have always been closeted affairs with the public and press excluded. Most deal with fairly standard stuff although the more notorious ones include Cllr Pam Palmer's 'deliberations' over the freedom of the press and some of those related to Regeneration.

Regeneration is Meryl Gravell's portfolio and she has, for years, given the final approval to millions of pounds given out in various grants. The brief minutes, or 'Decision Record' is not published until after the event so any questions or scrutiny is nigh on impossible.

Often the recipients are named only by their initials so, for example, it took a Freedom of Information request to find out that £20,000 to O C Ltd was an unnecessary £20k to the multi billion pound company Odeon Plc as a contribution towards the new sound system in the Eastgate development. Other grants have included various hot tubs and boilers and such like to promote tourism, and some of them have been questionable.

At the most recent meeting the council's old friends and evangelical christian partners at the Towy Community Church pop up under the snappily titled Welsh Church Fund 'Axis 3 Rural Community Inclusion Fund', in receipt of a modest £2135, modest compared to the £1.4m they've already had anyway. You never know, perhaps the 'community inclusion' bit is to set the bowling alley up as a venue for LGBT weddings....

The budget cuts for next year include a proposal to scrap these meetings altogether, to save on printing costs, and to have all decisions made by the Executive Board, although most would be in private session. This may be quite a good idea as at a Regen meeting in June Meryl, accompanied by one Regen officer, signed off a whopping £2.6m grant from the South West Wales Property Development Fund, the decision record states that it was for a 'proposed development of a food grade industrial unit on Plot 3, Cross Hands Food Park'.

I am not questioning the validity or business case of the grant, the SWWPDF appears to be a European funded pot covering selected parts of west Wales; a consortium of local authorities led by Carmarthenshire Council. It can fund speculative ventures but does exclude 'primary food processing', but maybe this particular grant, which went to a development company, is something different, who knows. A search for the official website for the Cross Hands Food Park turns up an 'Account Suspended' message.

Anyway, the point here is whether or not there should be a limit on just how much money the Executive Board Member, in this case Meryl, can sign off without it being referred to the Executive Board at the very least. £2.6m? Seems a staggering amount, and all done and dusted in exactly 15 minutes. The agenda for these meetings also states that; 'The Executive Board Member, having considered the reports on the under-mentioned items and taken into account the views of Local Members and interested parties where applicable, made the following decisions...' 

So are the local members and any 'interested parties' ever consulted? I guess the key phrase here is 'where applicable' which gives plenty of scope not to consult anyone.

Cllr Meryl Gravell (Ind)


Anonymous said...

Oh ye of little faith! Don't you know that ordinary mortals like us can't be expected to understand all the difficult concepts that Meryl has to grapple with daily? And if there's anything complicated that she can't understand then "people out there certainly won't understand". Love the photo btw!

Anonymous said...

Ah yes, the undisputed woman of many, er talents.

So highly intelligent that the requirement for any kind of qualification is simply unnecessary and way beneath her incredible intellect.

Us mere mortals (I'm only a PhD) couldn't hold a candle to her. For one I'm glad the onerous task of deciding where my money should be spent rests with such intellect.

Gosh, without her, where would I be?

Probably on a holiday somewhere instead of working my butt off to pay my council tax.....

Redhead said...

I find it utterly astounding that ine councillor and one officer can sign off such huge amounts. Surely the internal and external auditors have something to say about this?