Tuesday 30 January 2018

Councils at war

It seems that the former police commissioner is not the only one to view our council as Wales' answer to a Sicilian cartel - an element of Pembrokeshire County Council have also expressed the same view, publicly, at a meeting of Pembrokeshire's Audit Committee this morning (30th)

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.

Pembrokeshire Councillors (including the two blogging councillors Jacob Williams and Mike Stoddart) have been carrying out their own investigations into some of the SWWPDF expenditure in their county and in an attempt to get crucial documents, met the brick wall of Carmarthen County Hall.

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


A Badger said...

They breed 'em mean in these parts, Jacqui!

Myfanwy said...

I have no doubt that both Jacob and Mike will continue assiduously to delve into the murky depths of this cover-up and they most certainly won't take no for an answer. With luck, they will also convince their colleagues in Pembrokeshire to put an end to any thoughts of letting the Dark Lord continue orchestrating the Swansea Bay deal so that it can be consigned to history -where it belongs.

Anonymous said...

As you have reported many times - Carmarthenshire has a bad record on Grant management

Combine this with running a grant scheme to give to property developers to speculate build and then give them cash to compensate for the difference in the cost of the build and the market value - it is going to lead to problems

I am sure there are many hair raising stories in the individual grant awards which received 10's of 1000's of pounds

Add in the current CEO's attitude to monitoring and PR and you have a perfect storm for a scandal

All those senior managers in the Directorate of Regeneration are also to blame as the rules of grant giving are quite specific

Lets hope our friends in Pembrokeshire get to the bottom of this !!

Martin Milan said...

Haha... Knowing those two I doubt they're going to do much for Mr. James's love of bloggers...

Anonymous said...

Another exemplary instance, cllr Dole, of your “most open and transparent council in Wales”

Baby Grumpling said...

Why would Carmarthenshire want to cover up the fact that grant funding intended for commercial development was used to build drainage and other infrastructure for a speculative residential development adjacent to the commercial development and being built by a company linked to the commercial developers....?
Nothing to see there....
Damned bloggers!

Anonymous said...

Mike Stoddart’s blog post re the grant can be seen here - http://oldgrumpy.co.uk/2016/2860/money-down-the-drain/

It appears that Carmarthenshire County Council had an interest in land and buildings at Hayston road in the form of a legal charge over Uzmaston Projects Ltd from March 2015 to November 2017.