Friday, 26 July 2013

Utter Tosh-gate: The mystery deepens

Cneifiwr reported last week on Carmarthenshire County Council's ballistic reaction to concerns expressed by Unison over the council's plans for Pembrey Country Park. Suggestions that the council was planning to privatise the park or flog it off were "utter tosh and a cheap-shot lie", an anonymous council spokesperson thundered, adding for good measure that the union was scaremongering.

It all began rather innocently, with the Llanelli Star asking for the council's reaction to this press release from Unison:

Unison Carmarthenshire is growing increasingly concerned by Carmarthenshire County Council’s plans for Pembrey Country Park and the Llanelli coastline (Millennium Coastal path).

In an open invitation to private companies and investors the Council proposes that they could “Take on and improve existing facilities”, “Add holiday accommodation” and offer alternative use for areas – this is not an exhaustive list of proposals, but it does give a clear indication that the Council seeks to privatise the area and turn over a valuable and appreciated local resource to investors, whose sole intention would be to develop the area for their own profit.

While we do not disagree in principle with the development of the area, we do not understand why the council would seek outside investment when it could borrow the money itself and any profits from the area could be distributed back into the local community instead of lining the pockets of big businesses. There is a very real risk of developers being given the land for a pittance, applying for and receiving planning rights, which would boost the value of the land and simply cashing in.

We intend to ask Llanelli Trades Council, Trades unions, community and environmental groups, local councillors and AM’s and MP’s, anti-cuts and action groups, to come together to oppose this sell off and force Carmarthenshire County Council to reverse its decision to turn over vast swathes of our coastline to private developers whose last interest would be the people of Llanelli and Carmarthenshire.

We will be holding Public Meetings after the summer holidays to discuss the current proposals and formulate a strategy to defeat them. We invite all the above and the general public to attend these meetings and to get involved in a campaign to keep Pembrey County park  and our coastline in the public sector -where councillors are democratically accountable for the stewardship of our assets. We urge everyone to get involved to safe our services. [ends]

The Press Office asked the council's Head of Leisure, Ian Jones, for his comments, or as those masters of English prose put it, "need a response like".

Mr Jones duly provided a "response like" in the following measured terms:

The authority has no intention of selling off the PCP or the MCP, and neither could it.

The purpose of the EOI document is to look for private sector partnership, including locally employing businesses potentially, to come along and provide investment and activity that the local authority is not in a position to provide or is not set up to do so as a public funded body.

Leisure service in Carmarthenshire (and across Wales) are facing huge financial pressures over the next few years as the funding for local authorities are slashed. To continue to operate as we are is not an option and would inevitably lead to the closure of many facilities such as Country parks. The authority is taking a pro active approach in looking for income generating opportunities that provide a better offer to the end user, whilst retaining the control of the park.

Mr Jones wisely took the precaution of covering his backside by copying the e-mail to Eirian W James (Countryside Recreation and Access Manager), Dave Gilbert (Director of Regeneration), Mark James (Chief Executive) and Debbie Williams (Press Office Manager). Notice that no elected councillors were copied in on this.

It seems that one of these VIPs felt that Ian Jones's response was far too wishy-washy, and the dossier was, to borrow a phrase, "sexed up" and turned into an overtly political attack.

Readers looking for clues as to the identity of the real "spokesperson" may want to consider which of the four VIP cc's would be most likely to use the pompous phrase "utter tosh", which of them has an axe to grind against Unison and which of them feels secure enough in their job to launch a scathing attack on the union, albeit behind a cloak of anonimity.


Anonymous said...

Ironically, the word "tosh" read in reverse, sums up the feelings of many Carmarthenshire residents and Unison members. Get SHOT of the VIP's who put personal before professional interests!

Jac o' the North, said...

It all makes sense now - the council is on a well-trodden path looking for 'partners'. In other words, organisations the council will pay to deliver services the council itself should be delivering.

Which leaves the obvious question: What experience does the Towy Community Church have in wildlife, recreation, etc?

Just checked the MCP website Homepage says the Park lies "on the Burry estuary". The accompanying map shows the "Lougher (sic) Estuary". Next paragraph talks of "Pembre"! Neither Welsh nor English.

The link 'Coastal Park map' takes you to a detailed map, showing, among other things, the 'Machynys Peninsular Golf Club' and the 'Course Angling Centre of Excellence' . . . but of course facing the 'Lougher Estuary'.

At this point I gave up.