Thursday 7 September 2017

Swansea Bay City Deal - Pembrokeshire having doubts?

Update 4th October; BBC Wales reporting that Neath Port Talbot are also having concerns over governance and the potential borrowing required. The borrowing will be at least £360m between the councils, probably far more at a time when, for instance, Carmarthenshire Council can't even afford to run local playgrounds.
Interestingly the report states that the Welsh Government have told ARCH, (involved in the Wellness thing) to look for 'alternative sources of funding'. NPT have said they won't plug any funding doubt Carmarthenshire will oblige.
Taxpayers' money, poor governance, Mark James a key player...what could possibly go wrong?


Interesting to see the new leader of Pembrokeshire council, Cllr David Simpson, expressing caution and real concern over the Swansea Bay City Deal at a Pembs Committee meeting webcast (around 40 minutes in) this morning. He claimed that it was not all it seemed; he had "difficulties with the Board"; no one knew what they were letting themselves in for, and it "didn't quite stack up".
He also hinted that Pembrokeshire could pull out of it, though it was not for him to say.
He was also concerned about the 'substantial amount' the council would have to borrow - and whether it would ever be repaid. Commercial interests should self-supporting.

I have no idea what Pembrokeshire will do in the end, but it was refreshing to hear someone question the whole deal. Carmarthenshire, Neath Port Talbot and Swansea councils are the other three local authorities involved and it will be up to the lead representatives, in our case the chief executive of course, to convince their council that enticing, and propping up commercial ventures by borrowing, and risking millions of pounds worth of public money is a great idea.

Carmarthenshire is well down the City Deal road with the hard-sell being presented to council earlier this year by our own expert second-hand car salesman, Mr James. The presentation included the luxury spa Wellness Village and the only councillor to raise some sort of challenge was Sian Caiach who was, as usual, shot down by the chief executive with barely concealed rage. Who will ask the questions now I wonder?

The problem with the City Deal, from a scrutiny perspective is that's impossible to challenge anything without being fully informed as to what's going on. The private investment element ensures that, even given the amount of public money involved, it is all considered confidential or 'sensitive'. The level of transparency is nil. Your average backbench councillor will be the last to know who's involved or what's at stake.

The Pembs council leader mentioned the 'Promotional material' and so far this is all we have. By the bucket-load. The City Deal has a flashy new website which tells you absolutely nothing other than the spin which has been doing the rounds for the last couple of years. If it looks and smells like b******t, then it most probably is; or at least demands a degree of inquiry. We don't want another Circuit of Wales fiasco or a questionable Welsh Government land deal.

As I said, who will ask the questions in Carmarthenshire, which is already £388m in debt and has a track record of putting the interests of taxpayer somewhere near the bottom of the priority pile? As the chief executive has said he has a lead role in all this, then he is the one to provide answers. Councillors could also ask him how his own business affairs in Cardiff Bay square with his involvement with the City Deal, and while they're at it, how he manages to find the time to be a £171k a year chief executive...or does he run it all from the same office?

Anyway, as for the 'Deal', and the Wellness thing, I suggest councillors get themselves fully informed...before it's too late.

The City Deal promotional 'signing' launch in March (pic; WalesOnline)


Anonymous said...

Another person who seems to have lost interest in the City Deal and is conspicuous by his absence is the chairman Terry Matthews

He does not even feature in the photograph of the signing ceremony

Tessa said...

It's mental. Local politicians (or more like, council officers!) have neither the skills nor experience to recognise whether an investment is sound or not. What they DO have, however, is OUR money - no personal risk at all to them. Not even their job security! Hence their cavalier attitude to grandiose schemes and vanity projects. Clearly, if the investment WAS sound, entrepreneurs from the private sector would be in like a shot.

Lesley said...

What is wrong, in these times of financial austerity, with councils just concentrating on trying to provide front line services like education, social care etc rather than flashing non-existent cash on vanity projects like the "Wellness?" centre? Get your priorities right Carmarthen CC!