Thursday 30 August 2012

Back to the Beacon

Work has meant that the blog has been idle for a few days. News has been very thin on the ground, but suddenly there is a deluge which I will try to bash out in the next day or so. In the meantime, let's revisit the scene of an earlier crime strategic investment.


We have some colourful characters in this part of Wales, and one of the most colourful in this neck of the woods is a man who has been visiting the area every summer for several years now. Let's call him Charles.

Charles has long greying hair and is a little scruffy, but usually there is nothing about his appearance to make you think there is anything odd about him. He speaks with an educated English accent, and the first time you meet him he can be quite impressive as he explains his business ideas. Then you begin to notice things which don't quite add up.

He's off on a business trip to Australia tomorrow, he may tell you. When you see him the next day and say you thought he was going to Australia, he will tell you that he has been and come back.

Getting to Heathrow and back again from here would take up most of a day, so perhaps Charles chartered a private jet and flew from Pembrey Airport in Carmarthenshire.

Pembrey Airport is part of Carmarthenshire's Meryl Development Zone, a huge area of limitless commercial opportunities, as Pembrey Airport's website reminds us:

One of the few Airports in the United Kingdom that has 5000 acres of adjoining land available for joint venture with very little planning and environmental constraints. We are within Convergence funding Area (qualifies for European funding). Pembrey Airport is exempt planning and large tracts of freehold development land are immediately available from the Local Authority.

Fancy that! Exempt from all those troublesome planning and environmental rules and available from Carmarthenshire County Council immediately as a joint venture. Charles would feel very much at home there with his portfolio of hugely successful companies, including one that he is particularly proud of in Belgium.

A couple of years ago Charles checked into an expensive local hotel and ordered stacks of glossy magazines and other goods on room service. The hotel subsequently discovered that none of Charles's impressive collection of credit cards would work, and Charles found himself back on the street.

Despite this setback, Charles likes to tell anyone who will listen that he has millions of pounds in the bank, and is looking for investment opportunities in the area. Pembrey surely beckons.

Early one morning not long after the hotel episode Cneifiwr spotted Charles wearing a multi-coloured top hat and riding a large tricycle down the main street. About this time, Charles borrowed £10 from Cneifiwr. He was temporarily without funds, he explained, but would pay the money back.

Cneifiwr waved a sad farewell to the £10, but was surprised a few days later when Charles pulled out a very large wad of £20 notes to repay his debt.

If this tale has a moral, it is that sometimes it is quite difficult to know what to believe.

The name Technium has cropped up a few times in the last week or so, as names from the past sometimes do, and so Cneifiwr went off to check his modest archive. Ah yes, here it is.

Technium was the name of a business centre for high-tech start ups at Dafen in Llanelli, originally set up by the Welsh Government.  The venture turned out to be a bit of a white elephant, and so it was not too difficult for Cardiff to persuade Carmarthenshire County Council that Technium would fit in well with the council's growing herd of white jumbos.

Terms were agreed. In secret with a public interest exemption, as you would expect with the transfer of an asset from one public body to another.

Seven months after taking on Technium, which was now rebranded The Beacon, Carmarthenshire decided to launch a PR offensive to brag to the world that it had applied the Midas touch to the centre and transformed its fortunes "just like that", as Tommy Cooper used to say.

The centre was now full to capacity, it boasted, and the local press duly churned out a story which bore an uncanny resemblance to the council's press release. The journalist concerned got very upset with Cneifiwr about this reference to his article which, he insisted, was all his own work.

However, Cneifiwr's main point was not about recycling council press releases, but rather not believing everything the press office in County Hall tells you.

The problem was that the council had decided, possibly in a Charles moment, to claim that the rebranded centre was "full to capacity". It wasn't, as a quick and easy check established.

That was in March 2012, and a quick look at the Beacon website shows that there are still empty units today. Of those that are occupied, two are taken up by the centre's administrative staff; one is occupied by a joint venture between the council and the Welsh Government ("a flagship partnership delivering an ambitious Regeneration strategy for Llanelli Waterside"); and another is occupied by Coleg Sir Gâr.

The capital R in Regeneration is not Cneifiwr's, by the way. Regeneration in Carmarthenshire always has a capital R.

The colour coding scheme for units in the centre is perhaps not totally reliable (green for available, maroon for let), but two or possibly three units appear to be empty.

This marks quite an improvement on May, when the centre tells us that it acquired three new tenants, including Antur Teifi, another publicly funded agency.

Outside the main building is a suite of industrial units, all with high speed broadband access, gas, free parking, etc. Only one of those is currently occupied.

This is a pity because the aims of the Beacon venture are to nurture and train young people, and to help young IT and engineering businesses develop.

The question remains why the council pretended that the centre was full to capacity. It's a bit like a restaurant or hotel putting up a sign saying "fully booked for the next 18 months".

Perhaps the illusion of success is more important than the reality.

1 comment:

Tessa said...

Absolutely agree with your final sentence. Its the illusion that keeps those promoting it in jobs. As a business regeneration example I've been on business presentations, and seen the photos take of large numbers of smiling particpants (to feature in the glossy publications to illustrate the success of the events) who were participating in the ADMINISTRATION, not actual attendees (too busy running their businesses to waste time on such-like).