Thursday, 27 April 2017

£350,000 for Llanelly House...?


One thing you could never accuse Carmarthenshire Council of is being overly transparent. Despite many references on this blog to the lack thereof; the findings of the Wales Audit Office and the subsequent exposure by the WLGA, thing carry on as normal, if not slightly worse. From the confusion over the Waste Strategy procurement to the equally dysfunctional arrangements for the Carmarthen West Link Road funding, these items are kept, as best they can, out of the public eye,

One recent example was an exempt (secret) item titled 'Llanelly House' on the Executive Board agenda in March. Llanelly House is a grand Georgian residence located in Llanelli, which, over the past few years has been the subject of a multi-million pound restoration project, the majority of funding being public money.

Llanelly House
According to the latest available accounts for the Cambrian Heritage Regeneration Trust, which manages the project (and has taken on several other large publicly funded projects, Merthyr YMCA and Strata Florida - update; I understand that a bid for lottery funding for the YMCA project failed and the Strata Florida plans have been jettisoned off to another trust) they were £114,000 in the red, double the amount from the previous year. The independent auditor stated in the accounts that this material uncertainty cast doubt on the trust as a going concern. Their chief director, who also acted as a consultant to the project, resigned in December.

The minutes of the Exec Board meeting reveal, if nothing else, that things are possibly getting worse. The board approved a grant as "assistance was required to ensure the project could be concluded and that the House had a long term sustainable future". A further inkling that things are going pear-shaped at Llanelly House Trust was the suggestion that a Council member be allowed to attend meeting of the Trust as an observer. Nothing more was said, there was no great announcement and that was that.

Back in 2013, due to a reluctance by Finance Wales to cough up any more cash for the project, the council approved an interest free loan to the Trust of £250,000 to be repaid in a couple of years, in the event it was never issued as the authority had doubts over the Trust's ability to repay it. The council also have a reserve pot of around £200,000 for a five year funding arrangement. The Trust has eight outstanding charges against it, and this will soon be nine.

Move forward to next Tuesday's Exec Board, the last before the election, and as usual, the Council's Revenue Budget Monitoring Report is on the agenda. Buried within this report, the size of the grant is finally revealed; "....£350k to provide financial assistance to Llanelly House. Funding will come from the underspend in the Corporate Services Department".

What this means is that surplus cash from the revenue budget, mainly from money earmarked for vacant posts (held open and fully funded though not filled) has been given to the Trust.

There is nothing wrong with Llanelly House of course, it's well worth a visit, and the use of public money to create and sustain a historic attraction is inevitable and to be expected. What seems to have happened here is a lack of foresight, from the Trust management, of the long term costs and risks to the point where bail-out has become necessary again. A more appropriate and prudent recommendation would be for a full independent audit of the whole project, and the CHRT itself along with numerous offshoot companies.

This £350,000 is not a loan, nor coming from the Capital budget, nor the earmarked reserve but straight from the revenue budget. You may recall, as recently as February that the council approved a budget which saw 'difficult decisions', including school dinners going up, SEN services cut and care packages reduced. Things were tight and 'savings' had to be made, and jobs were going, as they have been for a number of years.

A spare £350,000 might have gone some way to alleviate the worst of the cuts, fund extra teachers, or mend a substantial number of potholes.
No wonder they kept it quiet.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I suspect none of your readers are surprised by this. Jacqui. Yet again money is siphoned off to pet projects with no transparency whatsoever. The current rulers of the council tell us that our parks and museums have to be financially viable, whatever that means, yet the favoured pets get public money under the table. This farce has to stop. I think Llanelli people get far more out of Park Howard then Llanelli House yet the former is in danger of being hung out to dry while the latter gets secret funding without any public consultation. So much for all the promises of openness and transparency.

Verity said...

This is par for the course where CCC is concerned. There is always money to be found for baling out rugby clubs, paying for evangelical bowling alleys or so-called "prestige" projects but never enough money for front-line services or for supporting the young, disabled or elderly.