The issue relates to Carmarthensire's refusal, some time ago, to allow Pembrokeshire's elected members access to crucial documents relating to the controversial South West Wales Property Development Fund (SWWPDF).
These were speculative property grants covering Pembs and Carms but administered by Carms. Carmarthenshire bloggers raised their own concerns over these grants, known as 'Meryl's Millions' (see previous posts) a couple of years ago and the outgoing Director of Resources reported matters to the Wales Audit Office as a parting shot.
As you can imagine, no information was released other than a few lines buried in reports. The Wales Audit Office did the final audit of the SWWPDF and Carms refused to accept the findings, which clearly were not good. Carms then took it off the WAO and gave the task to Wales European Funding Office (WEFO) instead and, surprise surprise, nothing more was said.
In 2016 I asked the WAO for all information and reports relating to their audit but it was refused as it would "prejudice the audit functions of the Auditor General for Wales" Hmm.
As WEFO also administered EU grants, it was not in their interests to find anything particularly untoward in Carms.
So, in brief, it was the usual cover up and secretive nonsense. The WAO have, in their annual reports, raised serious concerns with the council's management of numerous grants over the past five years.
Carms wouldn't even send documents to Pembs but insisted that Pembs officers trek to Carmarthen to view them, presumably under armed supervision. A request to include Pembs Cllr Mike Stoddart in the deputation to Carmarthen was refused. Carms suggested they submit a FOI request. As I mentioned, Cllr Stoddart happens to be the author of the Old Grumpy blog.
The issue at stake is whether, in a joint venture between partner councils, elected members can see contracts, audits and all documents held by the administering council.
As taxpayers money from Pembs is involved, of course they should and, in fact, their own legal department agrees that they should.
And if it is suspected, as it is here, that all is not as it should be then all the more reason that they should be available.
However, this is the Carmarthenshire cartel in action with the usual obfuscation, cover-up and chronically cavalier internal legal advice.
The murky waters of the SWWPDF were one thing, the multi-millions involved in the Swansea Bay City Deal are quite another. The four councils have still not agreed on a Governance Agreement; the previous draft was ripped up last October and apparently 'it is hoped' that the new draft will be 'presented to council' in March. That's over a year of disagreement as well as ongoing secrecy over private investment.
With Mr James as lead chief executive of the City Deal I understand that the other partners are finding his attitude a little arrogant to say the least. No surprises there then.
As for paying the interest on the millions which will be borrowed by the council, there is currently not a penny in the budget to cover it. Mind you, the £400k Respite care budget for profoundly disabled children is due to be slashed by half so perhaps that might contribute a few paltry quid towards Mr James' latest vanity project...
If Pembrokeshire councillors don't push now for free access to all documentation then they won't stand a hope in hell of seeing so much as a Post-It note from the Carmarthen catacombs.
If they do acquire documents, especially through the chief executive, it worth double checking their authenticity, just like you would for a second-hand car...just a precaution you understand.
Carmarthenshire councillors might also like to consider their own rights over access to information and stop taking 'no' for an answer...although I'm sure the majority have never asked for more than their monthly expenses claim form.
Anyway, kudos to Pembrokeshire for webcasting ALL their meetings, including their Audit Committee where the problem of Carmarthenshire's refusal to provide documents was discussed, in damning terms. After this, if they don't play ball Mr James may decide to build a wall between Pembs and Carms, and make Pembs pay for it...
As you can also see from the webcast, the matter has been referred to the Wales Audit Office.
I have been unable to find a way to embed the section of webcast into this post (can anyone help here?) so have provided a link to the relevant Item here. It's worth watching to the end of the item.
|Pembrokeshire's Audit Committee