As I have mentioned, next year's assorted budget proposals are currently under 'consultation' by the various scrutiny committees and, as the sanitised Minutes gradually emerge, it is clear that any concerns over cuts to services are swiftly swept aside by the relevant officers, at least that's how it appears. For instance; "Concern was expressed about the fact that £120k was being removed from Supported Living by reducing the staff support costs (particularly the proposed reduction in 24 hour support). The Director of Social Care, Health & Housing informed the Committee that this would be done on an incremental basis and that all risks would be managed appropriately blah blah.." (you get my drift?).
During the past few weeks the Executive Board has been similarly busy, but the other way round, and has been handing out cash under a series of 'exempt' reports (ie public and press OUT please). Only five out of the ten handsomely paid Members turned up to the last meeting although the presence of eleven even more handsomely paid senior officers, including the Press Manager made Members' attendance more superfluous than usual, though of course they can always be relied upon entirely not to disagree with anything.
An urgent item popped up (not on the agenda) and £250k was loaned, interest free to the Llanelly House renovation project. A worthy cause no doubt, but running a year behind schedule and with the bank calling in the loan in January, there was a bit of a cash flow crisis. I know how they feel mind you, there's always a bit of a cash flow crisis at Caebrwyn Towers.This project though, unlike the Caebrwyn residence, is currently run by eminent trustees from the 'Carmarthenshire Heritage Regeneration Trust' has had £6m of capital funding from various public pots, including Carmarthenshire Council. Unfortunately, as the report was exempt, we are unable to find out why the project is behind schedule, where the money for the loan was coming from, why private finance wasn't available, why the sudden urgency etc etc Yet again, why this was considered 'exempt' is a bit of a mystery.
The previous two meetings saw further secret reports on the Cross Hands developments, both West and East. The East project appears to be the creation of a large industrial estate, which, as the council continually informs us, will create 1000s of jobs. Let's hope it does, as the exempt report relating to it involved the approval of various (unspecified) Compulsory Purchase Orders, as wrangles over land deals have proved to be difficult. With approval for funding of possible public inquiries too, this could all prove very expensive. While they were there, an additional £250k was given to Welsh Water to deal with phosphorous discharge. As usual, no questions were asked.
The 'Cross Hands West' 'mixed use' project includes the proposed Sainsbury's store recently passed back to the council from Cardiff. The exempt report meanwhile, convinced the unblinking Executive Board to approve "additional development costs detailed in the report to achieve the full capital receipt". So what was that for then?...and how much were the costs? We don't know. And more to the point, who wanted 'Supported Living' anyway?
My point being that whilst cuts to services are making their steady way through the ranks of, er, 'consultation' meetings; in three cosy gatherings of the Executive Board a very possible £1m has been rubber stamped away with no information given to the public...or the rest of the councillors I suspect. Maybe we'd all agree that these expenses are justified to promote heritage and employment opportunities, if, that is, we were presented with a full picture. But, as usual, we're not....£20k to the £2bn Odeon conglomerate? Was that having a cash flow crisis too?
Of course, popping things on an agenda at the last minute has recently been outlawed by the Chief Executive and the legal squad, essentially to prevent any embarrassing discussions on dodgy press releases, leaked emails, nasty reports from the ombudsman etc etc. Llanelly House was lucky it seems.
Lastly, for now, the Minutes have been published for the last full council meeting which featured the 'public filming' motion and some of you wanted to know who had voted for transparency and who had voted against;
In favour of transparency;
Councillors; C.A. Campbell, J.M. Charles, A. Davies, G. Davies, E. Dole, H.A.L. Evans, L.D. Evans, W.T. Evans, D. Harries, W.G. Hopkins, K. Howell, P. Hughes-Griffiths, D.M. Jenkins, G.O. Jones, W.J. Lemon, A. Lenny, J. Owen, D. Price, G.B. Thomas, G. Thomas, S.E. Thomas, J.E. Williams and J.S. Williams
and those who voted to keep you in the dark....;
Councillors S.M. Allen, R. Bartlett, T. Bowen, A.P. Cooper, D.M. Cundy, D.B. Davies, I.W. Davies, J. Davies, S. Davies, T. Davies, W.K. Davies, W.R.A. Davies, T. Devichand, J. Edmunds, G. Edwards, D.C. Evans, M .Gravell, C. Higgins, I.J. Jackson, A. James, J. James, A.W. Jones, H.I. Jones, P.E.M. Jones, T.J. Jones, K. Madge, S. Matthews, A.G. Morgan, E. Morgan, P.A. Palmer, D.W.H. Richards, L. Roberts, H.B. Shepardson, L.M. Stephens, T. Theophilus, E.G. Thomas, M.K. Thomas, W.D. Thomas, W.G. Thomas, J. Tremlett, and J. Williams