Saturday 26 September 2015

Absent reports...and news on the Archives

Notable for its absence at next week's Audit Committee is the Wales Audit Office 'one off' report into two EU property grants which was supposed to be presented at this meeting. 

Questions arose last year after one of 'Meryl's meetings' where, in 15 minutes, she approved a £2.6m grant to a dormant company for a speculative food processing plant in Cross Hands.

Cllr Meryl Gravell
As so often happens, further decidedly dodgy details began to unravel about previous grants, planning permissions and compliance with criteria (which happens to exclude primary food processing), etc. It then transpired that concerns had been raised with the Wales Audit Office by the then Director of Resources.

In fact, the WAO have been critical of the council's grant management procedures in general for three years running and the November 2014 WLGA Governance Review highlighted concerns "that some individuals had significant delegated authority regarding funding and the distribution of grants to external bodies."

There is plenty of background on this blog, and Cneifiwr's and as the media picked up on it all, the council's spin machine went into action and statements were issued that it was all just a 'health check' and everything was fine.

Clearly it wasn't, as the WAO continued to compile their one-off report.

The report appears to have been completed at least six months ago. Since then it seems the council have sat on it, arguing with the WAO and preventing its release.

We don't know what's in the report but you can be fairly certain that if it had found nothing wrong, the news would have been trumpeted in a council press release many months ago.

The chief executive said, in one council meeting, that when the WAO raise a concern, they will usually back down once 'we' (the royal 'we') have a 'word' with them. This tactic backfired spectacularly with the pension and libel indemnity scandals but it remains to be seen whether this report will ever see the light of day.

chief executive

Still on the subject of grants, last March, due to the ongoing and serious concerns raised about grants, the then Chair of the Audit Committee Cllr Jenkins asked if he could attend, as an observer, meetings of the officer-only Grants Panel.

The minutes from the Grants Panel regularly form part of the Audit Committee agenda but minutes are one thing, observing the proceedings is quite different of course.
The Head of Finance got all defensive and, as I mentioned in July (see Money Matters) didn't think is was the business of elected members to poke their noses where they weren't wanted, despite the issue being the "lack of implementation of the procedures by officers"

The most recent minutes, which actually date from May, show that the Head of Finance passed this thorny issue to head of legal, Linda Rees Jones to chew over with a view that it should go to full council;

" consult with LRJ to consider a referral of this issue to Members for determination / potential amendment to the Constitution ie should the Chair of the Audit Committee attend the Officer Grants Panel (or a part of the Officer Grant Panel meeting) in an “Observer Capacity” ?

Whether the attendance of the Chair of Audit at a Grants Panel meeting warrants a full scale constitutional crisis is anyone's guess.
However, despite amendments made to the constitution earlier this month, this particular matter, along with the libel indemnity clause, continues to languish in the long grass of Carmarthenshire's legal minds.

Lastly, the Statement of Accounts is also on the agenda to be accepted by the Committee. The document includes a reference to the Archives and reassures readers that the precious collection is currently housed in the three strong rooms.

Those who have been following the Saga of the Mouldy Archives will be surprised at this statement as the current message from County Hall is that the three strong rooms at Parc Myrddin are not fit for purpose (and haven't been for years) and the treasured documents, many of which now suffer from active mould, have been sent to the four corners of the UK for temporary storage or to be professionally cleaned. At considerable cost.

I was surprised to then see an official tender published on Thursday to recruit a company to 'remove, clean and return the records housed in the County Archive'. The tender notice informs us that, as well as the active mould, 98.5% of the collection was identified as requiring cleaning in 2005 - ten years ago.

According to the tender the total volume of the collection to be cleaned is massive 248 cubic metres...roughly six large lorry loads? This is going to be an expensive exercise and begs a few questions.

The council has neglected its statutory duty to protect and preserve this irreplaceable material. This is not the fault of the archivists or their staff but a failure by management to maintain and invest in the archive service over the past fifteen years.
Why has this been allowed to happen? This is now costing a fortune when the council can ill afford it.

I also wonder just what has been going on for the past two years if it is only now that the material is being removed and cleaned? And why, if the current noises from County Hall are that a new home is required for the archives, possibly out of county, does the tender say that the documents will be returned to the County Archive? Do they mean Parc Myrddin?

Parc Myrddin
For further extensive background to this saga, please see the blog of author and historian, J D Davies. It includes his efforts to prise straight answers out of Carmarthenshire Council.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Not for the last fifteen years...I began working at the archives in inspection of the archives by the then Public Record Office (now The National Archives) around that time said archives were being stored in totally inadequate conditions within County Hall and in a couple of out-stores. Dyfed County Council's response was 'no money'!