Tuesday 21 May 2013

Beach Broke

One of the things which Carmarthenshire County Council likes to make a great deal of noise about is its regeneration schemes to attract business and jobs to the county. The reality is rather less glossy than the reports and press releases, and when things go wrong the spin machine in County Hall tends to go very quiet.

One scheme which received the enthusiastic backing of the council was the Beach Break Live event in Pembrey, which was first staged in Carmarthenshire in 2010. In its first year, when the weather was relatively good, the festival attracted around 20,000 visitors. Attendance numbers last year failed to meet the organisers' target of 25,000 but the event still attracted around 17,000. Nevertheless, the company behind Beach Break, Student Seed Limited, went into administration with debts of over £600,000, blaming the poor weather for its problems.

The South Wales Evening Post reported on the collapse of the company behind the Beach Break Live event in Pembrey last year (here), and a couple of days ago Radio Cymru broadcast an edition of its investigative programme Manylu to follow the story up (available for a few more days here).

On the very same day that Student Seed Limited went into administration, the directors set up a new company called Seed Events Limited, and in an operation known in the world of beancounting as "phoenixing", it acquired the assets of Student Seed and left the debts behind.

Manylu obtained the list of Student Seed's creditors, and it turns out that the vast majority are still waiting for payment despite repeated promises of a settlement. Quite a few of the creditors are local companies and trades people. Also heavily out of pocket are the St John's Ambulance, the Red Cross and the RNLI, as well as the County Council itself and Dyfed Powys Police.

To his credit, one of the scheme's most enthusiastic supporters, Clive Scourfield, did agree to take part in the programme. Mr Scourfield was a senior Independent councillor at the time and member of the Executive Board responsible for regeneration.

Rather less to his credit, Mr Scourfield shrugged the whole thing off. It was all rather unfortunate, but the council had done its best to attract visitors to the county, and he did not see that any blame at all should rest with the council.

Meryl Gravell, who was council leader at the time and who now has Mr Scourfield's old job, was unavailable for comment because, as we saw at last week's council AGM, she was abroad on holiday despite being paid over £40,000 a year from the public purse for carrying out her duties as councillor and executive board member.

Bearing in mind that councillors get a 2 month break from official meetings in the summer (last year it was 3 months), you would think that it would be possible to plan holidays accordingly. Teachers who want to fly off to sunnier climes during term time should take note.

The list of creditors showed that the County Council itself was owed more than £73,000 by Student Seed, mainly for the use of the park which was closed to the public for the duration of the festival.

A council spokesperson told the programme that most of this amount had been retrieved from a bond deposited by the organisers.

Local traders and companies have not received a penny despite repeated promises, and Dyfed Powys Police seems likely to have to write off nearly £43,000 at a time when the force is having to make deep cuts.

Perhaps sensing that local people and businesses would give the event a less enthusiastic welcome than the council this year, the organisers announced in March that they would be relocating the festival to Cornwall.

MP Nia Griffith (Lab) who represents the area told the programme that there were serious questions to be asked about the way in which the county council and the police safeguard public money.

Let's hope Kev comes up with some answers.


Anonymous said...

"A council spokesperson told the programme that most of this amount had been retrieved from a bond deposited by the organisers." Really! How much exactly?

Cneifiwr said...

According to the council spokesperson, the council is still owed just over £8,000. Sounds a bit fishy to me.

Tessa said...

God that's awful. I'd no idea. Well done and thanks for exposing it, anyway.