Recently the chief constable of Dyfed Powys Police, Ian Arundale, popped into Carmarthenshire County Council to ask for a 5% rise in the police precept. Since the precept is set by the Police Authority, he was politely telling councillors rather than asking them for an increase, but buried in his long tale of doom and gloom about budget pressures and spending cuts was one of the most extraordinary revelations of greed, incompetence and bungling ever heard in County Hall. And that's saying something.
Yes, we are talking about Ammanford Police Station, built at a cost believed to be £2.5m and opened in 2001.
I say "believed to be" because as usual there is a distinct lack of transparency.
The station was built out of town on a 30-year lease under a PFI scheme, which we are now told (here) may end up costing the police force £15 million. As "Anon2" has pointed out in my account of the chief constable's presentation (here), the numbers are all very vague, and the actual cost could even be significantly higher than £15 million. According to Mr Arundale, payments in the current year will be in the region of £700,000 and are rising.
Currently the station is open during the day, but not at night, and is closed at weekends. Some 60% of the building is empty and unused.
The contract to build the station went to local builders and entrepreneurs T Richard Jones, trading as TRJ Limited. TRJ Limited is one of a number of privately owned companies controlled by the Jones family, which include the bizarrely named "Dolef Cyfyngedig" (which translates as "Cry Limited"). Dolef is the company which leases the station to the police.
As usual, it seems that all of the people involved in awarding the contract have since departed from the scene, including Chief Constable Terry Grange, who retired suddenly in 2007 following an investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission into financial and other irregularities. By resigning, Mr Grange escaped disciplinary proceedings and kept his pension. Mr Grange, who had been assistant chief constable, took over from his predecessor, Ray White, in March 2000, when presumably negotiations with TRJ were well advanced.
The current chief constable told councillors that he was hoping to enter into discussions with the TRJ group to see if anything could be done about the PFI agreement. Well, there's always hope. In the meantime, he has begun discussions with the county council to see what scope there may be for sharing part of the council's vast holdings of office space.
Since the TRJ group also does a great deal of business with the county council, perhaps the chief executive could play an even more constructive role by making it clear to TRJ that the group will not get any more council business until it sorts out the Ammanford fiasco.
And who knows, the Wales Audit Office might even get off its backside and investigate this shocking and shabby deal. Who negotiated it, and why? Who authorised it? Was everything done according to the rule book and above board?
While the Jones's are laughing all the way to the bank, the police service is being cut back, stations are closing, people are losing their jobs, and ordinary families across the four counties covered by Dyfed Powys will have to dig deep to pay for a big rise in the precept.
Of course, the Police Authority itself is set to be swept away later this year and be replaced by elected police commissioners. One of the candidates will be John Davies, leader of Pembrokeshire County Council and a former copper himself. Mr Davies's many responsibilities include chair of the authority's finance committee. God help us.
Update 21 January
Thanks to everyone for their very interesting comments. Here is a brief round-up.
One of the comments concerned a private newsletter called Police Market Review, which in January 2000 reported:
12. DYFED-POWYS Finance Committee have agreed plans for a new PFI police
station at Ammanford. The force will pay an annual fixed amount of £360K plus an
annual index linked amount, presently worth £209K. The contract runs for 30 years.
IT and furniture will be provided by the contractor but there is no ongoing liability for
repair and replacement of these items. Minute, Finance Committee, 28.3.2000
Then we have an parliamentary answer in Hansard to a question from July 2010 in which the life-time cost of the station in Ammanford was put at £19.18m.
Unfortunately, some of the other page links quoted do not work, but what we are getting is a welter of conflicting numbers coming from the Government and the police themselves, with an FOI response from the police authority stating that the annual charge for 2007-08 was £632k, rising to £644k the following year.
At least that ties in with what the chief constable told the county council, although the same response put the total life-time cost at £21.23 million.
In other words, the numbers are all over the place, and whatever the true figure, one thing is clear: the public is being ripped off.
Barclays' involvement would seem to be that it loaned money to TRJ to fund the initial project rather than having a direct hand in the PFI arrangement itself.
Interesting to hear also that Mr Arundale wants to spend another £5 million on building a new custody unit, and that money is being wasted on renting parking in Cross Hands while the Ammanford facility stays empty.
Keep them coming!