Sunday 29 September 2013

A turkey heads home to roost

If the top brass in County Hall didn't have enough to worry about, the various poultry specimens which came home to roost last week seem set to be joined by a large and rather distressed turkey in the shape of Parc y Scarlets in Llanelli.

After discussing the libel indemnity and tax dodging pension arrangements, Friday's audit committee meeting settled down to ponder the dire finances of the Scarlets.

The auditor was critical of the council's exposure to a potential collapse of the club which could see the Parc y Scarlets stadium being seized by receivers on behalf of the club's creditors. There was also dismay from some members that the club has not contributed to the "sinking fund" for the last three years. That means that the upkeep of the stadium is not being funded.

Having left after the pensions and indemnity discussion, the council's Director of Resources, Roger Jones, had to be recalled to face questioning by the committee which was told that the next meeting of the full council in October would be presented with a report on the Scarlets' debt situation along with some suggestions put together by the council's officers.

One suggestion may be that  the council will ask the Scarlets to give back the ground lease and play "on license" so that the asset of the stadium itself is not lost to the council's tax payers if the club goes under. Since the lease shows up in the club's accounts as its only significant asset with a mind-boggling valuation of over £10 million, any change could have dramatic consequences.

The dire state of the club's finances has been public knowledge for several years, and it has only stayed afloat thanks to the generosity of a handful of wealthy private patrons and Carmarthenshire's tax payers. The dark warnings of the club's auditors about its viability as a going concern have been largely successfully obscured by a determined PR offensive, orchestrated in large part by the council itself, making hugely inflated claims about the club's contribution to the local economy, and a succession of hints, rumours and suggestions that a corner is about to be turned thanks in part to a mysterious Wunderwaffe.

The Wunderwaffe was in all likelihood the sale for £850,000 of land leased to the club on peppercorn terms by the council. We now know that the leasehold was sold to Marstons, with the club taking a hefty slice of the proceeds. Exactly what the council made from the sale remains a mystery, with the council refusing to disclose the information.

It is understood that the matter is likely to end up in the hands of the Information Commissioner.

With massive budget cuts looming the council's continuing generosity to the club will become harder and harder to justify.

It is not just the soft loans and land deals either, but a battery of hidden subsidies, such as the council's very heavy use of the stadium as a venue for meetings, hospitality and just about any other event in its calendar. Departmental budgets are regularly raided to pay to host events at Parc y Scarlets which could just as well be held for free or the cost of a few packets of crisps and sandwiches on council premises. Money which could be used to provide services to the public is instead being siphoned off.

But it's not all Parc y Scarlets. For no obvious reason tomorrow's meeting of the council's Executive Board is being held at the Botanic Gardens in Llanarthne where the ten members of the board and probably at least as many council officers will gather in the plush surroundings of Principality House.

These meetings usually last for less than an hour, and any members of the public planning to go along can expect to spend rather less time than that admiring the fixtures and fittings because they will be told to leave for the final item on the agenda. This concerns proposals for the development of the Gwynfryn site in Ammanford and something vaguely described as "cooperative housing in Carmarthenshire".

While all this is going on, the council's raggle taggle "Independent" group led by Pam Palmer is growing increasingly nervous, and a number of informal meetings of its various social groups have been taking place.

Pictures of the brooding fortress of County Hall appearing on news broadcasts with reports of scandals will not go down well with voters, but of even more pressing concern is the question of the official Independents' own collective and personal culpability.


Anonymous said...

Oh dear, what a shambles!

Anonymous said...

When you say personal culpability do you mean personal as a councillor or as a private individual.

I think its only fair that if leading councillors take decisions which are unethical or indeed unlawful then they should be held personally liable.

Cneifiwr said...

Anon @20.22 I'm not sure there is a difference. The nub of the problem is that some of them have been there and in power for far too long. We'll see what happens, but lessons need to be learned and some major changes of personnel made.

Anonymous said...

Definitely. Lets get Councillors who earn their money not hangers on! There must be radical changes.

Anonymous said...

County Councillors must be held accountable and Chief Executives must never again, in any Authority, be allowed such power to rule the roost!

Anonymous said...

Sorry, they were honest mistakes your Honour!

Anonymous said...

Or a deliberate attempt to conceal the truth?