Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Roads and religion - yesterday's Executive Board meeting

The £5m link road

As predicted (and covered in detail) over on Cneifwr's blog, the Executive Board were quite happy yesterday to plunder those supposedly precious reserves to fund the £5m link road for the Carms West housing development on behalf of private developers.

As the Carmarthenshire Herald also pointed out on Friday this is in "stark contrast to the stance it has taken on using reserves to cushion the blow of savage cuts to council services...the council appears to be helping out private business interests while slashing services for the elderly and families". See also 'Reasonable and necessary priorities'

After having planned this whole development, totalling 1200 homes, for at least six years that I know of, it is quite incredible that there was no firm plan as to how this road, essential to the development, would be paid for.

Things reached a head a few weeks ago when the application for 250 homes on part of the site was deferred when the Welsh Government intervened, with concerns over the road. This application had been made by a small consortium of private investors called Carmarthen Promotions Ltd based in East Anglia which appeared to have started trading just last September.

In order to get the application approved there was clearly some hard negotiating between the parties. The council, ever keen to please, hurriedly promised to cough up the lot in the vague hope that they might get it back from the developers and a wing and a prayer that the WG might have a whip round. As it happens, the WG have insisted that no more than 60 homes can be built before the road is completed.

Today's decision to fund the road scheme was held as an exempt item, even though most of the information was already in the public domain.

The press and public were excluded but following the WLGA recommendation, and in what must have been torture for the Exec Board and officials, non-Exec Board councillors were allowed to stay and observe. Unheard of in Carmarthenshire, this practice is in fact commonplace across western democracies

I'm not certain whether they had to sign the official secrets act but the non-exec councillors were warned about breathing a word on pain of death, or excommunication.

Praise be!

Also on the agenda was the item concerning the Towy Community Church and the evangelical bowling alley, (See 'Bending over backwards' and previous posts). As also predicted, the good folk were not whisked off to court for breaching legal agreements or planning permissions but treated to a special visit from the Board no less.

I am not certain what took place on the visit, hopefully not a visit to the evangelical bar, but the option of the church vacating the areas of the building they had moved into which breached the agreement was not even discussed. Re-jigging the legal Agreement was the only option on offer.

What has been strange about this whole development has been the utter devotion, financially and spiritually, County Hall has shown to a small organisation, which also happens to be a limited company. Anyone is free to set up a community enterprise but you are highly unlikely to receive the level of support from your local authority as this one seems to have done but as I have said before on this blog, the lord moves in mysterious ways, not least of all in the corridors of County Hall...

The Executive Board members had clearly seen the light (again) and there was some seriously fundamentalist hot-air. Cllr Jane Tremlett was so excited she even suggested they should go bowling on a team building exercise. Not content with that, she also suggested they 'facilitate' grant funding of £20,000 for a new boiler in the area which they're not even supposed to occupy yet. Praise be! And only the week before, she'd voted in favour of cutting £18k of funding from the Myrddin Special Unit...

The last word has to go to dear Cllr Pam Palmer who described it as a 'Christian enterprise' taking things forward with a 'wonderful bowling alley'. She went further and mentioned 'bad press and bloggers who had been unfair...libellous in my opinion'. Really Pam? Do you have some evidence of that?

What can we expect next? County Hall bankrolling a civil lawsuit on behalf of the Towy Church? Nothing would surprise me..

Update 12 March;
The minutes of the Exec Board meeting have now been published and do not, of course, record for posterity Jane and Pam's immortal words above.

However it does appear that Mr James was full of his characteristic, er, spiritual benevolence and  "...it was suggested that any other members who wished to see the facilities be invited to contact the Chief Executive’s office which could then facilitate a visit." 
More boilers on the way.

End of the road

Finally, and not on yesterday's agenda, it appears that the entirely non-religious, non-privately run Adult Community Learning centres will be closing. These are located in Llandeilo, Glanaman, Carmarthen and Felinfoel. In a report to Scrutiny tomorrow (11th March), the original plan to get the college of further education to run the courses appears to have run out of steam. The council emphasises that they don't have to provide this service, they only have to make sure someone else does.

The council is very keen to blame cuts inflicted by the Welsh Government and makes much of the fact that the service is predicted to be over-budget by a whole £34,000 this year. It appears that the council have been keen to rid themselves of these community centres for sometime and the Welsh Government has provided a useful excuse.


Redhead said...

And don't be fooled by "social enterprise". If it means in Wales what it means in England it does NOT mean that profits go back to the community - directors of the company can take out all profit for themselves and no-one else. All it means is that if they choose to sell the asset, it has to be offered to similar (!) organisations first before being put on the open market.

In other words: a government-created con to make naive people think that the asset is being used for the community when it isn't, it is being used purely for profit of those running it.

Anonymous said...

Redhead 10.54. Thats not a social enterprise. Thats a badly run social enterprise! Weak governance can occur in many different types of organisations and is not limited to social enterprise.

Consider recent examples of bad business practices, corruption or just very ill advised decision making at the CO-OP, just about any bank you would care to mention, Carmarthenshire County Council, AWEMA and I could go on. All very different organisational models.

The business model isn't the problem, weak oversight is weak oversight.

Another common factor between them all thankfully, given enough time, is that the threads most certainly do start to unravel, the iron grip is lessened, control is lost and the truth does out.


Redhead said...

The name "social enterprise" implies that it is being run for the good of society. It isn't - it is no different to any other plc or ltd company until it comes to selling it on.

It's got nothing to do with being well run or badly run - ALL profits can be distributed in any way that the directors see fit, and if that means them taking ALL the profit and giving nothing back to the community, that is fine and legal.

It is a total con. In practice one finds these "social enterprise" companies are very often linked to council asset sales or transfers or former council employees or officer or councillor cronies and then trumpeted as something special, deserving of (often massive) council support. in the form of grants year after year The words "social enterprise" are used in many cases to mislead.

If a "social enterprise" is successful (or thrives on continual council grants) it will NEVER be sold as it makes too much money for the people running it. Only
if it fails do the owners have to offer first dibs to similar organisations, which usually don't have time or resources to put the necessary funding in place. It then goes on the open market (directors get the profits) or it goes bankrupt.

Emperor ... clothes ... smoke ... mirrors.

Anonymous said...

You are beating up the wrong bush Redhead. There are many excellent social enterprises in Wales with strong boards of directors and by that I mean those which include non-executive / unpaid Directors. These volunteer Directors provide the oversight required to ensure that the executive directors cannot give themselves bonuses and huge pay rises.

I do know of a few social enterprises where it has all gone wrong. Typically, it all goes wrong when there is insufficient oversight by the Board of Directors. This can happen for many reasons.

But I stick by my original point above. Don't get hung up on the business model. Charities, Councils, PLCs, Social Enterprises, you can get weak governance in any of the above which leads to abuses of power.

Better governance is nearly always the answer.

Redhead said...

Methinks Anon protest too much ... scared of people seeing the Emperor with no clothes ...?

I stand by my comments: asset stripping and grant funnelling!