Saturday 15 September 2012

In The Thick Of It - Updated

Carmarthenshire's Press Office, known affectionately to journalists as "the Department for Information Prevention", is no stranger to political smears and propaganda, so the release yesterday of an extraordinarily partisan attack on Jonathan Edwards MP and Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM should come as no surprise, but it is worth taking a closer look.

The press release itself is wrong on several levels.

First, council taxpayers will be left wondering why, when so many services are being cut, that County Hall's department of spin remains unscathed, with 8 staff. This makes it one of the largest press and PR operations in Wales, and yet getting to the truth of what this luxury is costing is near-impossible thanks to a spider's web of cost allocations, outcharges, officer charges and other accountancy magic. Rhodri Glyn Thomas was recently told that it was not possible to work out where advertising revenue for the council's Pravda newspaper was coming from, and that bizarrely, the council did not keep back copies of the paper which might allow anyone to check.

Council taxpayers are also entitled to ask why a publicly funded operation like this should be used for party political purposes. If the Labour Party wants to attack Plaid, surely it should do so out of its own funds.

Yesterday's press release made no attempt at balance, and was frankly every bit as bad as the very worst of Murdoch or Daily Mail journalism. Almost half of it was given over to a spokesperson for Sainsbury's, would you believe.

Again this is nothing new. Last year the Press Office went to town with a press release and photograph of three senior councillors giving the thumbs up to a new Tesco store in Burry Port. Tesco had been given provisional planning consent, but despite the fact that the quasi judicial process was not complete, Clive Scourfield, who was then Executive Board Member responsible for planning matters, among other things, saw no problem with taking part in this media circus.

The press release went on to give details of Tesco's product ranges.

None of this does the reputation of the supposedly impartial planning process in Carmarthenshire any favours, especially when it is coupled, as so often, with what looks to all the world like party political voting on the Planning Committee.

No wonder that Jonathan Edwards and Rhodri Glyn Thomas commented yesterday that some of our Labour and Independent councillors are clearly in the pockets of big business.

The Welsh Government appears to share the concerns of the public, because when it examined the call-in request for the two Sainsbury's supermarkets, it clearly saw something it did not like. The Government is reluctant at the best of times to call in applications, even when they have a strong smell of fish about them.

As one reader of this blog has noted, 5 of the 14 call-in requests received by the Welsh Government for the whole of Wales are currently from Carmarthenshire.

One of the strangest aspects of this latest case is the timing of the Madge/Sainsbury's fatwa, because the Government decided to call the applications in six weeks ago.

The first thing to happen when an application is called in is that the council involved will be informed of the decision by Cardiff. The council is also informed when the Government receives a request.

Carmarthenshire County Council cannot claim that it only just found out about the call-ins, although the press release gives that impression.

By a stroke of pure coincidence the release, which claims that Plaid's MP and AM are putting jobs at risk, was issued on the first day of Plaid Cymru's annual conference in Brecon. This is a tactic known in PR circles as a "spoiler".

Whether or not you sympathise with Plaid, that is no way for a local authority to behave.


Plaid has responded with a statement which points out the facts of this case, including an observation that it was a Labour minister who actually called the two Sainsbury's applications in. Oh dear. You can read the statement here.


Anonymous said...

Were is the party of WALES going well so called ,we all need JOBS etc it will end up like the new shops in CAMARTHEN , now the people that tried to stop it now all shop there , and they are trying to stop the new houses in JOHNSTOWN, its not their money and people need a place to live etc i was in CARMARTHEN today and a young family had been to the new cinema the told me it was nice to have it CARMARTHEN to see all the new films , COME ON GET A LIFE..... jobs and it brings money in to a area , and its NOT YOURS

Cneifiwr said...

A couple of things here:

(1) The Welsh government in Cardiff decided to take the two applications off Carmarthenshire because it felt that there were serious flaws in the way the council had dealt with them. That's not Plaid's fault or mine.

(2) Creating jobs is great, but remember that the supermarkets are like giant vacuum cleaners in Wales - they give us jobs as shelf stackers and all of the money they hoover up goes back across the Severn Bridge. Bugger all stays here, and once you look it it that way, you will see that they are a net drain on the Welsh economy.

Anna Mosity said...

You know what you are getting with Murdoch and co, and whether or not the paper leans to the left or right. The Council PR Dept is far worse than them because they are supposed to be non-political and only give the facts. SirGar PR is an abuse of public money. Simple as that.

WAG called in the supermarket applications because of the cumulative affect they will have on the area. CCC conveniently ignored the reports they commissioned telling them of the many millions of pounds and therefore jobs that will be taken out of the locality by these supermarkets., and instead allowed Sainsbury’s to call the shots.

This is exactly the same as they did with the Deloitte report they commissioned into the Scarlets stadium. Deloitte raised 17 major concerns, all of which CCC ignored. Most of the risks that Deloitte identified came true. CCC (ie Mark James) failed, and it is only the generosity of the Scarlets funding directors that has kept them afloat.

Anonymous said...

Were would you buy your food if it was cheaper in one shop rather than another, and build houses brings jobs for shops, teachers, paints, builders , gasman, bakers , etc so live in the real world and its NOT your money , why should these AM's PM's stop our young people getting houses and jobs , they have jobs in CARDIFF, LONDON and lots of perks etc

Anonymous said...

if it was a perfect world, there would be room for all three stores in llandeilo, but it's not. i have a sneaky feeling the flaw in llandeilo is the previous application. if it was declined for one reason, then surely it would have been declined for the same reason to sainsbury because no prelimainary work or improvenment has been carried out.

what it is with crosshands it will be interesting to see.
if i was working for the council and living in crosshands, and my foodbill went up say £10 a week, i doubt if mark james will see to the deficit.
it would be quite scary if sainsbury did open and closed down the co-op. a huge building and a large carpark.

Don't forget, until 1984, there was nothing in crosshands. i am not sure when the kwiksave opened, i really can't remember if it opened a few months before the co-op or not. if it opened a year or two years at the most prior, then all the co-op were doing is provide a bit of service to the community, the same principle of sainsbury but likely to lose one of the pre-existing stores. Aldi opened around 1994 and is popular. i don't see them being affected.
Some people say co-op isn't that much more expensive than tesco. maybe 10p difference. but when you add it all up, you are looking at £5 a week at least per person, whether it's in times of affluence or recession.

the construction jobs are temporary. wether the jobs will go to some people who are currently not emplyed which would temporarily save on the housing benefit side for a few months.

i don't see how that many people will be employed at llandilo sainsbury store. look at pontradulais tesco opened last year, they proclaimed 300 new jobs.. try 130

anon: money has always gone out of wales in the way you are saying. very rare it works the opposite way. (a2)

Anonymous said...

i see what's been happening now (retrieved from blog)

The WG assessment states that Nathaniel Lichfield Partnership identified that if the two stores operated at the full market rate, this would produce a loss of £36.15m to other retailers in the area, based on that figure, NLP said that the two stores could not be supported.

Sainsburys then came forward to the Council and promised to operate at only 80% average turnover. So, with the help of Sainsburys, the figures were then re-jigged by the Council who came up with a much reduced and slightly more palatable impact of £5.89m. The Council, using Sainsburys figures, concluded that "there is sufficient commercial case within the County to make both stores viable".

if 100% is 36m, 0% is 0m, surely 80% is 28m to the untrained eye?

god knows how they got it down to 5.8m. there is a reason for it but what? the only reason i can think of is if they abandon the petrol garage, don't sell televisions et al,if that is causing suspicion, either ask for clarification or if not happy, call it in. (a2)

Anonymous said...

i looked at it again, the overall figure is 36m loss between crosshands and llandeilo. what i can't seem to find is how they came to that figure.. Llandeilo has fewer people but more shops. On avarge it looks like on paper 18m each but i don't see that. it could be 20m/16m ratio, or 26m/10m, or even 28m/8m. there aren't that many small shops at crosshands, but there is the co-op, aldi, and farmfoods. oh, and leekes. so it might not be a case of electrical goods and televisions after all, or maybe part of it.

if it is 26m crosshands generates, say 9m for the co-op, 5m for aldi, 5m for farmfoods, and the remainder dispersed amongst the rest. people have a reason for shopping at lidl and that is economical so they're not going to budge...inevitably it's between co-op and sainsbury.

oh, i forgot to mention that the sainsbury site is err, about 400 metres from the co-op. somewhere around that.

the co-op is a large building, plus the large carpark and the petrol garage area. it would be ridiculous if that store closed down, it will become a derelict building. ccc must have thought this through. aldi and farm foods will survive. it's still a bit baffling how they have come down to 6m...between the two. very strange(a2)