Friday 23 September 2016

News in care, schools and more

As mentioned previously, the council has decided to buy the Guildhall building in Carmarthen for £250,000. Despite the state of disrepair, and unknown refurbishment costs to this listed building it is indeed a historic feature of the town centre. However it came as something of a surprise last Monday to discover that our Plaid Cymru led Executive Board had used money from the social care budget to buy it.

According to a recent report on the capital budget, 'savings' on the construction of the new Extra Care home in Carmarthen left a surplus of £232,000. Without so much as a whisper to the rest of the councillors, this cash was used to buy the Guildhall.

The current year position on the social care revenue budget is an overspend of over £800,000. Now, money for capital projects is not supposed to used to support the revenue budget but there is no reason why 'savings' on the capital budget can't be used?
According to a recent report from the director of social care the ongoing cuts, with plenty more to come, are proving to be extremely challenging and the demand described as "relentless".
To take any money from the social care budget, capital or revenue, is simply wrong.

Although the Carmarthen and Ammanford Extra Care schemes are complete, there seems to be some delay over the same development promised for Llanelli. You may recall that the then Labour/Independent administration managed to conjure up £7m for the scheme to silence those opposing the closure of the council run care homes.
It's all gone a bit quiet but rumour has it that this £7m could now be funnelled into the ARCH Wellness village, with its private health care, luxury spa and business conference suites....

A saving, or 'slippage' of £400,000 was also made on the new Ammanford Extra Care home (let's hope no corners were cut)...the mind boggles where that will go. A life size bronze statue of the chief executive adorning the grand portico of the Guildhall?

Still on the subject of social care, the council are still ruminating over outsourcing the service by forming an arms length company, a Local Authority Trading Company (LATC) with particular thought to the remaining in-house home care services.
The reason why part of this service has been kept in house up until now, was due to the difficulties in persuading the private providers to cover the rural areas of the county, it's clearly not financially attractive nor profitable, in the business sense. If the current plans for back door privatisation go ahead then the same financial issues will apply and elderly and vulnerable folk in rural areas are likely to suffer.

Moving on to education, it seems that the new £23m, or £30m (depending where you read it) Bro Dinefwr super school on the Ffairfach swamp is having a few issues, I daresay the council would call it 'teething problems'. Several people have now told me that despite the best efforts of staff, long queues have resulted in pupils not having time to eat their dinner and there are also rumours of the need for portakabins for extra space.
It seems that the infrastructure of this state of the art school is insufficient to cope with the numbers. A multi million pound design fault perhaps. In addition, sandbags and pumps are also on hand should there be a shower of rain.

The issue of lengthy bus journeys for pupils from north Carmarthenshire has often been repeated in relation to the siting of the new school, and of course with the closure of village schools even our four year olds will became very familiar with the joys of bus travel. Let's just hope we don't get any snow this winter...

Local alarm bells rang earlier this year when Pickfords removal vans arrived at Pantycelyn to move the old furniture down to Ffairfach. Another shiny new school, some said, without enough money to run it. I needn't remind you that £12m is due to be slashed from the school budgets over the next two years.

Moving on, I must mention the increasingly slow publication of minutes from scrutiny meetings. Whatever the reason, and there is no such problem with the publication of press releases of course,
the council's state of the art website seems to be more cumbersome and difficult to negotiate than ever. For example, after two months, the minutes from the last Audit Committee were finally published. As a blogger, or an anorak, I rushed to see how the 'discussion' panned out on the latest draft Statement of Accounts. Ah, there was no 'discussion', it turned out that all queries had been ironed out in unminuted 'briefing' sessions earlier that week. I should've guessed.

Still on the matter of minutes, the new-fangled statutory Public Service Board, which replaces, in name, the unstatutory Local Service Board (representatives of local bodies, council, colleges, health board, police, etc which discusses strategies,,) also has an exiting new website called 'theCarmarthenshirewewant'.

One section screams 'GET INVOLVED' and includes a list of meetings since May, and there have now been three. The Agendas don't include links to any of the reports and no minutes have been published for the meetings.
With a nice friendly feedback form at the bottom of the page the temptation to GET INVOLVED got the better of me and I enquired about this lack of transparency. Over a week later I had a response, from the council, which informed me that 'The discussion on this has not yet concluded.  I will be speaking again to the Chair of the PSB and will get back to you as soon as possible."

Before I go a quick heads up for next week's full council meeting. It seems that Director of Children's Services and Education, and grim reaper of our village schools, Mr Rob Sully, handed in his resignation at the end of July. As this post attracts a salary of £135,000 per year (inclusive of pension contributions) there is a requirement to advertise the post nationally, unlike some of the more cosy arrangements which usually take place in County Hall.

Also featuring on the agenda are a couple of questions about the latest council led works at Parc Howard, Llanelli. Labour opposition leader (I use the word 'opposition' loosely) Cllr Jeff Edmunds is asking council leader Emlyn Dole about the procurement and tendering process, suggesting that, in fact, there was no proper procurement and tendering. Mind you, it needs to be remembered that it was the Labour and Independents, well, Meryl, who kicked off the whole business of selling off the family silver in the first place.

Cllr Edmunds is also enquiring about the lack of planning permission for the works and whether retrospective approval will have to be sought, still, I'm sure the Rev 'two barns' Dole will be prepared with an answer, having become something of an expert on retrospective planning himself....

Update 3rd October;
I'm at a bit of a loss for words about Wednesday's (28th Sept) full council meeting, which is not like me, but anyone who has a spare three hours to waste to watch it might understand. It's three hours of your life you'll never get back though.

I'll be brief, the two main groups, Labour and Plaid Cymru spent most of the time grandstanding, and bickering over Parc Howard, Llanelli. This was interspersed with some ridiculous procedural challenges, from both sides. Add to this the spectacle of the Chair who didn't appear to be entirely sure where he was, and the chief executive pontificating from the driving seat throughout the entire three hours, and you get the picture. Business as usual.
And those hoping for a glimmer of a mention of anywhere north of Llanelli were set for disappointment.

I'm all for healthy debate but clearly the recent thrills of the Cilycwm by-election was focusing party political minds on next May. And as for the Cilycwm ward itself, I suspect that like Brigadoon, it will once again disappear into the mist.

Then you had the chief Finance Officer saying, in response to a question from Cllr Caiach, that it didn't really matter if the interests rates went up on the council's massive £376m debt as their assets were £1.3bn. So presumably council houses, roads, schools etc are easily realised should the worst happen, Ebay here we come...

The next full council meeting is on the 12th October. Can't wait.


Anonymous said...

Interesting to note that Ffairfach school is having problems with lunchtime queues. There was a similar cock-up when the new Bro Myrddin School opened in Carmarthen some years' ago: the school day had to be lengthened because there wasn't room or time to feed all the children at midday. You'd think the authorities would have learned that particular lesson and provided a big enough dining room. Obviously slow learners.

Anonymous said...

The parents were reassured on Wednesday at Parent/ Governors Meeting that there are no problems with children been fed at lunch time - So once again you have the wring facts . All children are getting their food in time . Obviously someone from Llandovery is against the new school and is feeding you incorrect facts You are blogger so there is no obligation to check your facts