Wednesday 28 November 2012

Oompa Loompas in Johnstown

Work has finally begun, it seems, on Towy Community Church's ten-pin bowling alley and umpteen other facilities (furniture recycling centre, food bank, etc., etc.) courtesy of Carmarthenshire's council tax payers, the Lottery and various other grant funds raided by the council.

Like many ambitious projects, the timescales have slipped significantly, and the bowling alley is now more than a year behind schedule.

The project has been in the pipeline for several years now, and when it finally looked as though it was about to take off, the church, acting on the advice of its lawyers and accountants, undertook a nifty move at the end of 2010 when it transformed itself into a new legal entity and changed its accounting period. This had the effect of wiping all of the church's previous financial history and starting afresh with a blank sheet which made it impossible for anyone outside the organisation to see what was happening to all the public money that was being pumped in.

The change of accounting period meant that the church was able to submit an initial set of accounts to the Charity Commission which fell below the threshold for publication. That in turn meant that the church was able to delay the publication of its first publicly available accounts until now. Whether that was intentional or not, the effect was to shroud what the church hoped would be the key construction phase in an impenetrable blanket of fog with no legal requirement to publish figures of any kind.

But time has finally run out, and the Charity Commission has now published the church's accounts for the period from 1 January 2011 to 31 December 2011, which of course means that the "new" figures are already effectively a year out of date. The accounts can be viewed here.

A few things stand out. The church reported total unrestricted income (i.e. income other than grants and donations which were earmarked for particular projects, such as the bowling alley) of £93,786. Expenditure for the year totalled £88,090, with Management and Administration swallowing £79,817. Since costs associated with the bowling alley are shown separately, that appears to be the normal operating expenditure incurred by the church, and includes £42,402 in wages and salaries (principally the pastor and his wife plus half of a third person).

Rent, rates, electricity, etc. took a further £15,847, while unspecified other administration totalled £20,691.

By contrast, the church spent just £6,221 on grants and gifts in furtherance of its charitable objectives.

Bearing in mind that the church rents a small office in Carmarthen and uses the Queen Elizabeth High School for its services on Sundays, you have to wonder why the cost of running the church is this high. The accounts confirm that membership is around 150, and that number includes children.

Of more direct concern to tax payers is the bowling alley project itself, however.

Both this blog and Caebrwyn have consistently pointed out various glaring inconsistencies between the council's version of events and the church's own. You would think that these two organisations, which have been getting closer and closer in recent years, would find it relatively easy to sing from the same hymn sheet.

You might also think that the Wales Audit Office would be twitchy, but it seems that as they only go by what the council says, there are no inconsistencies.

One of the things which struck the bloggers when councillors were first asked to approve the funding package for the church was the church's own very meagre contribution to this estimated £2.5 million phase of the overall project. In May 2011 the report presented to councillors showed that this stood at just £17,000, less than 1% of the total.

Thanks to its success in reducing its requirements for bank loans, we were told, the church was back in front of councillors in December of the same year asking for a loan of £270,000. By then the church's contribution had shot up to £388,450. Needless to say, the increase was not explained, but it seems very likely that this figure was arrived at by including work on the St Ivel creamery carried out by church volunteers, even though it is unlikely that the premises had actually been leased to the church at that stage.

How do you put a value on voluntary work carried out by church members? Bearing in mind that there are only 150 of them, and that those figures include children, the elderly and people holding down full-time jobs, the figure is remarkable. Perhaps, as Cneifiwr speculated at the time, the church had taken a leaf out of Willy Wonka's book and was using unpaid and unseen Oompa Loompas in Johnstown, because until very recently there were no visible signs at the site that anything had happened there at all.

This set Cneifiwr wondering what value he could put on his gardening over the last year. All that lawn mowing, hedge cutting and weeding must be worth a small fortune. At a paltry £200 per hour plus Mrs Cneifiwr's exorbitant consultancy fees, you wouldn't get much change out of £50,000.

But it is unlikely that Cneifiwr's accountants would accept this as legitimate business expenses, and it seems that the church's accountants have had similar qualms about including the cost of all this voluntary work in the accounts.

So while the value of voluntary work is not shown in the accounts, the council saw nothing wrong with including it in the mix when it presented a report to councillors in December 2011 asking them to approve the revised funding package.

The accounts show that accumulated revenue spending on the bowling alley project (lawyers, surveyors, accountants, etc.) had reached £127,127 by the end of 2011. Legal fees incurred in 2011 alone totalled £31,464. The accounts also put a value of £99,000 on building work associated with the bowling alley, and other associated assets (equipment) are valued at £127,000.

During 2011 the church received the first installments of grants from the County Council and the Lottery Fund totalling just under £50,000. Clearly that was not enough to cover spending, and so three of the church's trustees, including the pastor and his wife, provided the church with unsecured, interest-free loans totalling £196,674.

We will now have to wait another year to find out what happened in 2012, but this blog sincerely hopes that the pastor stands a better chance of getting his money back than the taxpayer does.


Anonymous said...

It is very poor practice to have the staff of an organisation also carrying out the role of Trustee.
And that is also compounded when a relationship exists between the employed staff. So if the Pastor and his wife are employed staff and also 2 of the five trustees of Towy Community Church - where are the checks and balances in the system? Who manages the staff and the direction and activities of the organisation? It should be the Trustees ultimately but, oh yes two of the Trustees are staff aren't they? And staff who are powerful and dominant.
Starting to smell a bit like an AWEMA situation?

Cneifiwr said...

The accounts also state that Bethel Engineering was engaged to clear the site, and that one of the church's trustees is a director and shareholder of that company, although he withdrew from all discussions involving this arrangement.

Anonymous said...

Is this the Director you are referring to Cneifiwr?

Cneifiwr said...