Friday 5 August 2011

Council assets and top secret toilets

The most recent meeting of Carmarthenshire's Supreme Soviet Executive Board discussed two issues after applying an exemption under the Local Government Act, which meant that members of the public and press were asked to leave the meeting, and that the reports under consideration will not be published. The issues under consideration were proposals to transfer public toilets to community councils and an action plan for the county's leisure centres.

The outline of the plans for the public toilets was reported in this week's Carmarthen Journal and involves offering around 25 community councils a grant of £1,000 and an undertaking by the county council to pay business rates on the toilets if they will assume responsibility for them. The county will retain its public conveniences in five other locations which attract most tourism.

The original plan would have saved the council £139,000, but the new proposals will reduce the savings to just £45,000.

Exciting, isn't it? Oh, all right then. But all of this begs the question, what was so sensitive about the plan that it could not be discussed in public? Is there something else lurking in the plan that we haven't been told about? It is hard to imagine what that could be, so on balance let's assume that the Journal's report tells us pretty much all there was to know.

In theory, the Executive Board is meant to debate the public interest before applying an exemption. In practice, nobody on that august body ever questions the wisdom of such ridiculous secrecy. It is hard not to think that if they are prepared to apply an exemption to relatively trivial matters such as the transfer of public toilets to community councils, what serious issues are being covered up in the same way?

On this morning's Today programme on Radio 4, Eric Pickles and a representative of the Local Government Association discussed the publication by the Government in London of details of assets owned by local authorities in England. The list includes golf courses, pubs and hotels.

I suspect that the producers of the radio programme were hoping for a bit of a punch-up when the two men were interviewed, but they were in pretty much complete agreement. The man from the Local Government Association said it was vital that the public was given this information. I wonder if Cardiff Bay will consider it vital for people in Wales to know what their councils own? Probably not.

Certainly, Carmarthenshire is addicted to buying up all sorts of land and buildings. And if it can't buy them, it will lease them. Invariably, these acquisitions are always termed "strategic investments". Such as the former St Ivel creamery at Johnstown near Carmarthen, purchased for the best part of £1m a few years back, and now about to be handed over for a peppercorn sum to an evangelical Christian group on a 99 year lease. Some strategic investment that turned out to be. Not that the people who recommended buying the building, and ensured that their proposals were approved, need worry that this sort of waste of public funds will affect their generous salaries and pensions.


Photon said...

On toilets: last year, we learned on Anglesey that there is a scheme whereby, in return for some dosh, local businesses agree to provide their toilets to the public.

It sounds daft, but if you can find the little red sign that tells you which businesses are participating (not at all easy), then instead of sitting your kids on a damaged, dirty and stinking council-run toilet, you sit them on an immaculately-clean hotel toilet.

A good idea, if managed properly.

Mrs Angry said...

This is a very interesting subject, Cneifiwr, but I wonder if you have really got to the bottom of it all? Will keep an eye on the story to see how it all pans out.