Monday 24 February 2014

Making Enemies

Back in November Peter Hughes Griffiths, leader of the Plaid group on Carmarthenshire County Council, called on Kevin Madge to allow councillors to discuss plans to introduce drastically higher charges for council-owned sports facilities, and he noted that this announcement had come hard on the heels of revelations that the council had just given another huge injection of public money to Parc y Scarlets.

Kevin Madge went bonkers:

"The answer is no, no, no, and erm, you know, we get to the stage here now, you know, on these subjects, especially the Scarlets, and you know, and, erm, we want to play political ping pong with this one, you know............You ran away from the Ffwrnes, erm, seminar. You've used politics for the last two weeks saying that you're not part of the administration....... So, you know, your group can go on and on and on about these decisions. As I've said all along over the years, we've made those decisions and made tough decisions. And I am proud of what has been achieved here, and what has been done with the Scarlets. They've asked us for a little bit of help here, and we've supported them. Now is the opposition saying, let's pull them down and make everyone redundant then. No, you're not saying that, are you? No, but on the other hand. No, no, no. And I will take the legal advice here. 

As Kevin Madge knows, this was not political opportunism by Peter Hughes Griffiths but a plea from a man who has spent most of his adult life working with young people in sport.

The row has rumbled on ever since, and has grown more intense now that rugby, soccer, cricket and bowls clubs around the county have woken up to what the council is doing. For many of them this could be the end of the road as they will no longer be able to afford to use council pitches for training and games.

To its credit the South Wales Guardian has reflected public anger and covered the story in depth (sad to say that its competitors appear to see their role as reflecting the views of the council rather than their readers), but a game changer was probably a recent edition of Taro'r Post on Radio Cymru which highlighted the strength of raw public feeling.

At last week's council meeting Cllr Glynog Davies (Plaid) referred to the programme and warned Kevin Madge and the rest of the Executive Board that they were making enemies of the people of Carmarthenshire. He begged them to reconsider.

It fell to Cllr Colin Evans (Lab) to defend the party line. Reiterating what Kevin Madge has been trotting out since November, Cllr Evans argued that the hikes in charges were all about fairness and trying to reduce the gap between costs and income for these sports fields. The deficit is around £250,000 per year.

A recent freedom of information request showed that the council spent £120,000 on hiring conference facilities and various events at Parc y Scarlets in the period between October 2012 and December 2013. The last event listed was a "Leadership Conference" held at the stadium on 3 December 2013 at a cost of over £2,500.

All of that comes on top of the much larger cash injections the club received from the sale of the council-owned car park next to the stadium and the latest debt restructuring. £280,000 was gifted just to cover the cost of fitting out the Red Room in the Eastgate Centre.

Not to mention the evangelical bowling alley at Johnstown where Towy Community Church has been given nearly £1.4 million in cash, grants, subsidies and soft loans.

Recently Kevin Madge has found himself on the wrong side of a lot of controversies. His plans to remove backbench councillors' powers to decide whether or not to close schools ran into opposition on his own benches, and he had to back down.

He has vetoed proposals to pay council staff a living wage and other proposals to adopt a no-evictions policy for victims of the bedroom tax. His latest budget includes an attack on trade union facilitation time, something which will make it much harder for the unions to protect their members.

His support for Mark James has been unwavering ever since the Wales Audit Office published its public interest reports and triggered intervention from Labour HQ in Cardiff and criticism from Labour MPs and AMs.

Now Kev's campaign for what he calls fairness and a level playing field for village sports clubs has run into trouble with Nia Griffith, Labour's MP for Llanelli. Realising that she was unlikely to get a hearing from Kevin Madge, the MP has bypassed him and his Executive Board and asked Deryk Cundy (Lab), chair of the council's Regeneration and Leisure Scrutiny Committee to investigate the policy as a matter of urgency (South Wales Guardian story here).

Better late than never, perhaps, but as we saw at the beginning of this piece, Peter Hughes Griffiths was warning about this three months ago. By the time Deryk's committee gets round to looking at the problem, it may well be too late for many of the clubs.


caebrwyn said...

There was no good reason whatsoever for the hike in charges to be determined by the Exec Board alone, and almost immediately after the Item giving Scarlets Regional Ltd a favourable deal.
Appalling and indefensible. But exactly what we've come to expect.

The Summary of the report to increase the charges 'Confirms that appropriate consultations have taken place'.
No consultations have in fact taken place;
"Council Decision required - N/A
Scrutiny Committee - To Be Agreed
Local Members - N/A
Community/Town Council - N/A
Relevant Partners - N/A
Staff Side representatives and other organisations - N/A
List of Background Papers used in preparation of this report - THERE ARE NONE"

There now needs to be some sort of emergency independent audit of the council, including of course the financial arrangements referred to in Cneifiwr's post.

Anonymous said...

I am extremely interested as to how Kevin Madge and his level playing fields applies to Garnant golf course and neighbouring Glynhir.

The Garnant model based on huge public subsidy is undercutting the not for profit member owned Glynhir.

so much for a level playing field Kev!

Anonymous said...

It seems to be that level playing fields means one is covered in tumbleweed and one in green velvet and fairy dust.

Anonymous said...

Carmarthenshire Council is committed to find £250k a year for 20 years for offices in the East Gate development. These offices are not needed by the Council. The Council told the developer that if no tenant could be found for the offices they would take the tenancy, so guess what, no tenant materialised.

To fill these offices, council workers have to move from a building that is only 30 years old. We are told East Gate is about footfall, I think its about footfools. Just think what this money could have been used for.

Anonymous said...

How many pitch fees will be wasted on hiring the £8k/day for this weeks council meeting:(

Anonymous said...

Cllr Robin Griffiths has asked that the following be placed on the agenda and sent to CCC (Chief Executive / Leader of the Council). “Llangunnor Community Council appreciates that there are great financial pressures on CCC at this time. It also appreciates that in order to be within budget that savings have to be made. It is however concerned that support has been found in the past for large projects, e.g ParcyScarlets/GarnantGC etc.; in future we would urge that priority be given to safeguarding local communities and services.

passerby said...

unusual question, but is the council subsidy grant actually repayable. does the council have a mandate to force the repayment of the subsidy via higher pitch fees?
grants are usually termed as non repayable. the odd grant here and there are repayable such as housing grant for extensions. and sports grant is repayable in instances if a club folds in a particular timescale

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Rhodri Glyn Thomas's reponse to Nia Griffith's intervention is also being carried on the South Wales Guardian website:

Anonymous said...

Interesting question anon 01:30 and one which readers might like to research! CCC have been known to tell porky pies to justify what they have done i.e. telling a judge that funding had been withdrawn.

Anonymous said...

The council doesn't seem to have much luck differentiating between loans (to be paid back) grants (which you keep if you do what you said you would do and you can prove it, otherwise the money gets returned), gifts (which have no strings and become the property - and the responsibility of the givee) and brown envelopes (which usually involve a visit to the local police station if discovered).

See, it's quite simple really. And my advice came free!

Anonymous said...

Number of parents and friends affected buy pitch fees v number of actual voters last time???? You you know where you going councillors:)