Friday, 5 September 2014

Meryl and the £2.6m grant - a turn for the worse

Update 8th September; I understand that the £2.6m grant awarded in June was not for Celtica Foods but a separate speculative development.

Update 7th September; Thanks to Redhead in the comments below for pointing out that there was earlier grant of £1.9m in April 2012 (link to minutes here). This was awarded by Meryl's independent colleague Cllr Scourfield who stood down in the 2012 election.
As has already been said, the company which received the grants, JBCH Ltd, was dormant until earlier this year.


Further to reports this week over her approval of a £2.6m grant to a company in Cross Hands things seem to be taking a turn for the worse this evening for former leader and Executive Board member Cllr Meryl Gravell.

You will recall that the grant was signed off by Meryl, in a fifteen minute secret meeting back in June, she was accompanied by just two officers.

BBC Radio Cymru have been investigating and have found out that Meryl awarded the grant after the director of resources, Roger Jones had reported it to the Wales Audit Office (after serious concerns were brought to his attention by an unnamed councillor) and before the recipients JBCH Ltd had signed a contract to build the food processing plant and before anyone had even decided to move to the site. A "speculative development" as the BBC reporter put it.

She must have been well aware of the involvement of the Wales Audit Office as she wielded her rubber stamp. She should go.

Meryl spoke to the BBC Radio reporter this evening and naturally claimed that everything was rosy, a "Good news story" in fact. Oh dear. As for the usual cry of job creation, the position as I understand it, is that the meat processing jobs will actually be relocated from Carmarthen and "it is hoped" that around new 30 jobs will be created at the new site over the next five years.

The council statement to the Western Mail last week, attributed to regeneration director Dave Gilbert, reeked of council spin and glossed over the issue. Everything was fine and the WAO had merely recommended they tidy things up a bit.

Tonight's revelations bring the honesty of that council statement, and the integrity of Cllr Gravell, into question.

The Wales Audit Office are still investigating.

The Pembrokeshire Herald reports today that the scandal surrounding certain EU grants awarded by Pembrokeshire Council appears to be escalating.

It would appear from this evenings's revelations that Carmarthenshire can always be relied on to go one better...

Concern over the issue of grant awards was brought up at a recent scrutiny meeting (Aug 1st), the minutes tell us little of course but the cryptic response to whatever was asked was 'The level of governance requirements however caused problems with delivering grants to the private sector'. That word 'governance' disarray and not fit for purpose.

(See also Wednesday's post Roger's parting shot which links to the Western Mail)


Anonymous said...

How many years has this been going on for. It is time for officers in the know to come forward and tell all.

'Only dead fish go with the flow'.

sian caiach said...

Unfortunately, I'm not at all surprised. As a backbench Councillor my experience in 6 years on this Council is that very little information is shared with ordinary Councillors or the public except for the "headline" good news stories which often turn out to be empty promises. If Roger Jones had not reported this case would we know about it at all? I doubt it.
Our Scrutiny Committees are controlled by our officers and most of the bad news is suppressed. I agree with anonymous above, it is likely that this has been going on for years and we are in need of a full investigation into these matters. If this can happen to one grant, who have the rest been going to? Why have our senior officers, exec members and environment chairs been saying for years that there was no sewage pollution in the Burry Inlet when raw sewage has been pouring into it in huge quantities for over a decade? Why didn't they care when we lost local jobs in cockle gathering and processing and almost all of a huge, productive, sustainable shellfish industry as well as important wildlife?
My general responses when I've tried to ask questions on these subjects has been silence, bizarre legalistic explanations or just being told to shut up and sit down.
I'm not allowed, as a non aligned member, to see the WLGA investigation draft report the council political groups have had sight of, but I hope it covers these issues.
We need to know exactly what the mess is and clean it all up!

Redhead said...

Sian: As soon as you get a majority (positive vibes) make your first act to return to the committee system. Not a total solution but more likely to cause officers (and rogue councillors) headaches - which is always a good thing!

caebrwyn said...

Anon 09:59
Many years, in one way or another. The WAO have been warning the council about its grant management governance for two years now.

It is only in very recent years that anyone has challenged the closeted way that decisions are made in Carmarthenshire.

The WAO reports blew the lid off to a degree and incidents like this, whatever the eventual outcome, show just how necessary an overhaul of governance is. The Council cannot rely on patronising spin any more, it really doesn't wash.

I have been contacted by many whistleblowers over the years. By the time they contact me they are usually at their wits end and very fearful of reprisals should they 'go public'. Carmarthenshire Council can have all the whistleblowing policies it likes, from my experience, they're not worth the paper they're written on.

Sian Caiach
Thanks for your comment and well said.

I think it's disgraceful that you have not had sight of the draft WLGA report. In fact, not only should every councillor have had a copy but it should have been published for all to see.

How is Carmarthenshire Council to become the 'most transparent in Wales' if this hugely significant report is allowed to be tweaked by officials before the final version is issued?

Redhead said...

Can anyone enlighten me about the £2 m already granted to this company for the same project in 2012:

I don't understand where the £2m awarded to the same company went after it was agreed by the council in April 2012 - see council source document url below


Following the application of the public interest test it was RESOLVED pursuant to the Act referred to in minute no. 4 above not to publicise the content of the report as it contained exempt information relating to the financial or business affairs of any particular person (including the Authority holding that information) (Paragraph 14 of Part 4 of Schedule 12A to the Act).

The public interest test in this matter related to the fact that the report contained detailed information about the business and financial affairs and ambitions of the applicant. In this case, the public interest in transparency and accountability is outweighed by the public interest in maintaining confidentiality, as disclosure of this information would be likely to damage the applicant at this stage.

The Executive Board Member considered a report detailing an application from JBCH Developments Ltd. for assistance from the South West Wales Property Development Fund towards its proposed development of a food grade industrial unit at Cross Hands Food Park.

RESOLVED to approve an award of £1,990,530.00 of PDF assistance to JBCH Developments Ltd. in respect of the above as recommended by the Carmarthenshire PDF Assessment Panel.