Tuesday 1 March 2016

The 'Wellness Centre', and other news.

The new proposed super-dooper 'Wellness centre' for Delta Lakes, Llanelli has been getting quite a bit of press coverage recently, that's all it's had mind you, a lot of aspirational twaddle and no substance. Feel free to google. Led by Carmarthenshire Council, with numerous 'partners' in tow, glib press releases are likely to be the norm, until a few years down the line when the auditors are finally called in to try and find out where all the money went.

As the last council meeting revealed, the only people in Carmarthenshire Council who know anything about it are Mark and Meryl. If that in itself doesn't ring massive alarm bells then it's about time it did.

No matter how much this multi-million pound project is dressed up, one document, a council planning brief for Delta Lakes reveals the true intention. Planning briefs, or 'Supplementary Planning Guidance' tend to outline possible uses for an area of land, maybe residential or industrial use and may even incorporate a school or a health centre. However the Delta Lakes brief contains, unusually, a very specific use - Private Health Care.

To add to the mix, the ARCH project, a cross-border organisation of health boards also involved in the delivery of this 'Wellness Centre' (along with the equally opaque Swansea Bay City Region) aims to "break free from an outdated healthcare system designed over 50 years ago", that 'outdated system' being our NHS I assume.

So far, the Plaid Cymru administration in Carmarthenshire seem to have fallen hook, line and sinker for this project. There is nothing wrong with private healthcare as long as it is funded privately, not with public money. But Plaid, whilst critical of Welsh Labour's track record with the Welsh NHS, are in danger of committing an unknown and therefore unlimited amount of public money, (including the land itself) to private health care right here on their doorstep. Or the Plaid councillors in Carmarthenshire are anyway.

Perhaps it's time for them to step back from the clutches of Meryl and Mark and demand some detail. The Labour opposition, under the leadership of Jeff Edmunds is a lost cause, with Cllr Edmunds prefacing any challenge, about anything, with the statement "although I wholeheartedly agree with everything you say and do...."
They really need to step up to the plate - scrutiny is everything and they should never work on the assumption that they are being told the truth.

At best this project will be an unaffordable drain on the council's and the NHS budget in an area where most of us have trouble affording a bottle of aspirin, let alone waiting twelve hours in A & E to have something removed from your eye. 

At worst this vanity project will merely be jobs for the boys, lining the pockets of faceless investors and unknown entities with public money, be it in the form of EU grants or whatever, all of whom will be long gone when the inevitable poop hits the fan.

I am reminded of the tales from Boston when the taxpayer-draining PRSA stadium was conceived, the promised funding from investors never materialised and management contracts agreed with no reference to councillors, the latter leading to a multi-million pound lawsuit. All courtesy of Mr Mark James CBE of course, who then transferred his talents to lucky old Carmarthenshire and that other notorious stadium project. 
Consulting with councillors, apart from Meryl, has never been his forte, as I mentioned in another example here.

At the last council meeting Mr James, in his short speech about the wonders of the 'Wellness' project, deigned to provide a report to the Executive Board at some point in the future. Good of him to throw them a crumb. He also mentioned that none of the decisions had to go to full council. Ah.

Unless councillors (apart from the hardy handful, we know who they are) now demand detail and transparency (for I guarantee there'll be none), instead of acting like sheep and swallowing the spin, then this could well turn out to be Mr James' final disastrous legacy to local government to end all disastrous legacies.

On the subject of transparency, or lack thereof, I recently requested, through FOI, the most recent register of interests, gift, hospitality etc for senior officers of Carmarthenshire Council. The request was essentially an update to the same request I made several years ago, when I received a lengthy list of (mostly mundane, day-to-day) invitations, mostly to the chief executive and the former Director of Regneration.

This earlier request found, sprinkled amongst the school concerts and local events, most of which weren't attended, a fair few champagne lunches and international rugby fixtures which were attended as named companies and businessmen courted favour with County Hall top brass.

In total, and including the mundane, there were over 700 invitations from 2005 until 2011 for the chief executive alone, and the Director of Regeneration didn't do so badly either.
As you may imagine, I blogged about it at the time, see 'Just the Ticket'.

Things are clearly a little different nowadays and the latest response no longer names the companies or businessmen behind the invitations. In fact, in the past three years the invitations seem to have dwindled with the chief executive logging just four, none of which were attended.

There are several possible reasons for this; perhaps they're not being logged, or perhaps our most senior officer has just become deeply unpopular. Billy-no-mates. Surely not.
 Or maybe courting favour is now a little more subtle - slap-up lunches with various developers in assorted hospitality boxes don't look particularly good when they pop up in a FOI response. 

The current lack of detail can, of course, have unintended consequences, and only one gift stands out really, declared, accepted and no doubt enjoyed by the (now retired) Director of Resources;

"Received, one traditional Swiss tart"

......perks of the job eh?


Anonymous said...

"Received, one traditional Swiss tart"

Was this for an hour or for the night?

Anonymous said...

The failure to tell Members or the public exactly what is going on, and more importantly, what it will cost is symptomatic of Tory policy writ large. It's nothing more than siphoning off public money from the poor and needy, and diverting it to the corporate sector. There may be some jobs in it, and some secondary spending in the local economy, but the real money will be made by investors from elsewhere. Tax breaks all round!

Anonymous said...

Possibly another White Elephant before the cowboys ride off into the sunset.
It would not surprise me in the least.