Thank you to Anon for finding a link to a COASTAL project meeting held in September 2012 which provides some details of an investigation into allegations of maladministration which was being conducted by WEFO (the Welsh European Funding Office) at the time. Here is the link.
Carmarthenshire County Council's branch of the COASTAL project has used part of its very generous funding to produce a film (here) to tell us what it does.
The film is nicely produced, although someone should have used a spell checker for the small amount of text which appears, and it runs to just over 16 minutes. There is some nice upbeat music, lots of shots of people making things in craft workshops, and short interviews with people who have been helped.
There is no doubt that many of the people who have taken part have enjoyed the experience and learned some new skills, but the film and the project itself suffer from a fundamental problem. The goal, and the reason why the EU provided so much money, was to get people into full-time, long-term employment. Training courses and teaching people new skills were meant to be the means to that end. By that measure, COASTAL has been a truly epic failure.
The original budget for the COASTAL project was £51.7 million spread over six local authority areas across four and half years, and the project is now coming to an end. What the final cost will be is not known, but the film ends with the following message:
"By the end of the COASTAL Project we will have
- worked with nearly 1,000 people
- supported nearly 600 to gain a qualification
- helped nearly 100 to get a job"
What is noticeable from the film is that quite a few of those who have found jobs have found them in the council's staff canteens or at council-supported ventures, such as the Botanic Gardens.
Very, very few have found jobs in the private sector, and it is questionable how sustainable and long-term some of the jobs that have been found really are.
By chance, an article on this blog about COASTAL coincided with a short piece in Private Eye pointing out that the Westminster Government's decision to close the Remploy factories had been a disaster. Two thirds of the those thrown out of work had been unable to find employment, while a good many of those who had found work were former Remploy staff in Halifax and Fforestfach in Swansea. There the workers came together and formed a cooperative with their redundancy money (BBC story here).
One other aspect of the film which is extremely disappointing is that it is all in English. Not a word of Welsh anywhere, even though statistically around half of COASTAL's target client base in Carmarthenshire will be Welsh speakers. Having watched the film, it is a fair bet that quite a few of those interviewed can speak at least some Welsh, and several were more than likely brought up with Welsh as their first language.
There will also be potential clients of COASTAL in Carmarthenshire who are much more able to express themselves in Welsh than English. What about them?
It is fair to say that some of COASTAL's clients with learning disabilities might struggle to learn a second language, but for those who can speak the language or are capable of learning it, an ability to speak Welsh can be a very important asset when it comes to finding jobs in many parts of the county.
Employers looking to take someone on in a shop, a cafe or any other business which has significant numbers of Welsh speaking customers will naturally regard an ability to communicate in Welsh as either essential or a very desirable skill.
Perhaps there is a Welsh-language version of the film out there somewhere, but if so it has not been publicised by the council. Was the use and promotion of the language part of the agreement underpinning the public funding package in Carmarthenshire? If not, why not? Is this in fact just another example of the council's two-faced approach to the language, saying one thing in public, and completely disregarding it otherwise?
A couple of times during the film COASTAL managers express the hope that the project will continue in some form or other, but serious questions need to be asked before any new funding is agreed, and the Welsh Government and the participating councils need to ask themselves whether the money would not have been better spent helping set up cooperatives, as in Fforestfach.