Wednesday 5 March 2014

Micromanaging ostriches - Updated


And lo and behold, after refusing to allow the full council to discuss the matter, attacking the opposition, boasting how he "makes the 'ard decisions" and banging on for nearly three months about fairness and creating a level playing field, Kevin Madge has now decided to carry out a review of charges for sports facilities.

Fees for using council-owned sports fields thus join the lengthening queue of other difficult subjects waiting for reviews. The difference is that on this one the public will be happy if the council takes its time and drags things out.


One of the most controversial decisions taken by Carmarthenshire's Executive Board late last year was the so-called Community Asset Transfer programme under which the county council is proposing to hand responsibility for sports fields and other leisure facilities to community councils or sports clubs. The choice is either take on the cost and responsibility for running and maintaining rugby and football grounds, cricket pitches, bowling greens, etc., pay drastically higher fees which do not appear to reflect the true cost of running them, or lose them completely.
The name given to this initiative is also rather misleading because what the council is offering is relatively short-term leases rather than outright transfer of the freehold. 150 or 99 year leases at peppercorn rents as given to the Scarlets and Towy Community Church are not on offer.

The scheme was approved by the council's Executive Board (Kevin Madge, Meryl Gravell, etc.) without any public consultation. Local councillors in wards affected were not consulted, and the Board used its delegated powers to ensure that the policy did not go before the full council.

An interesting aspect of this is how the decision came to be taken.

It first popped up at a meeting of the Executive Board on 14 October 2013. Also on the agenda was yet another generous deal for the Scarlets who saw payments to the so-called sinking fund (set up to finance maintenance of Parc y Scarlets) slashed. That was approved unanimously.

Next on the agenda was the Community Asset Transfer Scheme. Six out of the 10 members of the Executive Board had declared a personal interest because of their membership of community councils, and two other members were absent. The minutes state that the chief executive decided that the report should be withdrawn because of the declarations of interest.

There was no suggestion that the scheme should not go ahead, however, and the minutes record that officers were asked to go away and draw up more detailed proposals.

The subject was raised at the November meeting of the full council where Plaid leader Peter Hughes Griffiths asked the Executive Board to let the full council discuss the proposals. Kevin Madge was having none of it, and launched into a tirade against the opposition:

As a council we cannot be like political ostriches, sitting in the sand, and hoping they all go away. That's what this opposition is in this chamber - political ostriches. Any difficult decision, you walk away with it, and you get your spin doctors, Mr Bloggy and other people to, and every time they react, you jump.

This was followed up by Mrs Linda Rees Jones, the council's acting Head of Law, who delivered a little lecture dismissing Cllr Hughes Griffiths' request, saying that it was an attempt to micromanage Executive Board decisions.

Officers duly went ahead and prepared detailed proposals which went before the Executive Board on 2 December 2013. One member was absent and six members declared an interest in the item.  One member, Councillor Meryl Gravell, did not declare an interest at this meeting despite declaring an interest in the item at the October meeting.  Her circumstances had not changed as she was still Chair of Trimsaran Community Council (the reason for her declaration of interest two months earlier).

As far as the personal interests were concerned, nothing had changed since October when the chief executive felt that a vote would be inappropriate, except that Meryl Gravell appeared to forget that she was still Chair of Trimsaran Community Council. Despite that the proposals were duly passed (unanimously, of course).

The timings are interesting. The Wales Audit Office report highlighting the unlawful pension and libel amendment decisions was published three weeks before the October Executive Board meeting. It was big news, and even made it on to the main BBC Wales evening news bulletin.

By the time of the second Executive Board meeting on 2 December, senior officers and members of the Executive Board had responded to a formal letter from the auditor Mr Anthony Barrett, setting out his detailed findings. Those findings included damning criticism of the council's governance arrangements (i.e. the way in which it goes about making decisions), and Mrs Rees Jones had told councillors in the November meeting that the letter was "very frightening".

Mrs Rees Jones was present at both meetings - the October meeting where discussion could not go ahead because of all the declarations of interest, and the December meeting where the policy was approved despite the declarations of interest.

The rules governing declarations of interest are complex, but the Councillors Code of Conduct defines personal and prejudicial interests. Membership of a community council is a personal interest in this context.

A prejudicial interest arises where "the interest is one which a member of the public with knowledge of the relevant facts would reasonably regard as so significant that it is likely to prejudice your judgement of the public interest."

If someone like Meryl Gravell, for example, were to involve themselves as a community council member in decisions to negotiate with the county council on a lease for a playing field, it is quite possible that members of the public would conclude that they had a prejudicial interest and decide to make a formal complaint to the Ombudsman for Public Services.


Anonymous said...

Kev's reference above to "Mr Bloggy" and officers' and the Exec's acute sensitivity to anything said by bloggers, reinforces the importance of blogs in the political process.

Members of the public and individual councillors are virtually excluded from the political debate, and local papers are too scared to criticise for fear of loss of advertising revenue. So blogs are one of the few places where decisions can be challenged by the public.

No-one can pretend that blogs have any democratic mandate - but it is important that people can express views about the way the county is governed, and it is clear that it is not just a few disgruntled souls who read them. I wonder if Cneifiwr would consider publishing the number of page views his blog receives? I suspect that the numbers will be high enough to add further discomfort to this already paranoid regime, but it would also reveal that many people are genuinely concerned about what goes on in County Hall.

passerby said...

part of the problem with community council asset transfer is because some of the pitches are inside a public park and recreational area. so they're effectively taking over the park as well as on top of the pitch. some like to take it over, some don't and are wary. the usual question of 'what happens if someone falls over and has an accident? are we liable?'

pardon the saying but it'll take some balls to take it on. main concerns would be insurance and back to square one, maintanence. who is going to cut the grass? round and round it goes.

as most people can see, many of them are falling apart. ok it is still winter so parks don't look as pleasant as summer.
but there are some things that is involved inside a park that some people don't see or think of.

there is nothing wrong with a club or association taking over the pitch themselves and the town council taking over the rest of the 'site'. at the end of the day, someone will have to do the maintaining whether it's a county council, a community council or joe bloggs. a community council can raise it's precept to cover this cost and maybe unpopular, or find the money from the at county level.that is the harsh reality.

but beware. a football pitch maintanence budget per year should be around the £1500 - £2000mark. cricket around £4000 - £6000

this is why municipal golf courses have been closing up and down the uk over the last few decades, they simply cannot afford to cut the grass offset against the amount of members and players. was it golf on the cheap? golf isn't a cheap sport to strat. you need a set of club and a private club membership will set you back over £400 a year and benefits if playing regular. for the odd occasion, it would benefit the day pass, which varies club to club. some £10 in winter, some £16 in summer. more prestigeous courses cost £30 and £50.

of course you haven't got the fairways on a 40x40 yard bowling green. the only similarity is the greens are intricate and time consuming on both, surface and drainage system.

is bowls as prestigeous as golf? in one respect yes. they both have memberships. llanelli is just about to fold up, as members don't want or cannot afford the extra £30 this coming season.

if a private golf club put up their fees by the same percentage, how many members drop out?

can't the bowls club hold events to fundraise? then again, all clubs whatever the sport will be looking for the same thing if they hold dances and discos to raise some revenue, which would be beneficial for both as a social event and pay £3 at the door and get 100 people in once in a while on a saturday night.

but if people cannot afford to go out because of their circumstances what with money being tight and pub prices prevent people from going out, and ends up as a viscious circle.

Cneifiwr said...

Thanks Anon. I've never paid too much attention to the stats. Since the blog started it has had 370,000 hits, although things were slow for the first year. Last month it had nearly 45,000 hits, something which reflects public interest in the scandals. That was by far the busiest month.

Obviously we can only talk in very general terms because a good many hits come from the council itself, which spends a great deal of time monitoring blogs, the legal fraternity and other bodies which are not necessarily interested in democratic debate, open government, etc.

You are absolutely right that the blogs have no democratic mandate - but then neither does the Carmarthen Journal!

Anonymous said...

Judicial review of the decision. Someone/some thing might qualify for legal aid in this respect (e.g. a small club)and, if not legal aid, they could get a "protected costs order" which would limit their costs should they lose to something manageable.

Unfortunately, no-one will be able to afford Mr Kerr but there may be a lawyer with integrity out there who might be willing to take on the big guys and get an awful lot of kudos for just doing it.

Or maybe a local law school might take it on as a test case for their students?

passerby said...

there now needs to be a think tank. i know the council are conversing with associations in their coprorate sense.

if emlyn dole can get a freeze, that will give some breathing space. that would be beneficial for bowls and cricket and gives time to organise, and take on board every single nook and cranny. and give them time to find impartial 3rd party advice who is politically free and has no direct interests.

otherwise it will be cameron's big society. and run by qualified volunteers. running the odd coffee morning by volunteers is not quite the same as maintaining a county full of grass, even if the intentions are good.

"Britain is experiencing the Age of the Amateur Qualified experts, specialists, practitioners operating within established, well-regulated trades"

if the top 2500 council workers took a £10 a week pay cut, that will pay for the pitch maintanence for carmarthenshire.
could there be a compromise somewhere?

it will take a lot of organising for a club to 'do it themselves'
Can the council loan the equipment and train someone?
then again, a volunteer will not be able to apply herbicides if needed because they need to be qualified themselves. which seems to be odd because anyone is allowed to handle herbicides in their own gardens whether council house or private.
If someone thinks they can cut a bowling green out of bravado could muck it up, so it'll take practice and more practice.
I'd rther make a slight mistake on a football pitch than a bowls green as it'll grow back pretty quickly and recover :)
Once someone gets the hang of a close cut cylinder mower on a green, and get used to which direction the minute grass sward grows,they get used to it. as for doing diagonal stripes, that's another matter

call in the scarlets loan? how many years of maintanence does that cover? wonder how people in carmarthen feel about their mney going to a rival club and doesn't even support llanelli. but they could support scarlets when it comes down to regional rugby as it may involve some local carmarthen players in the scarlets squad.

carms cc have got their heels dug in and are staunch to see the programme through. but what grants are actually available to anyone who takes on the asset transfer that the council cannot access themselves?

passerby said...

in other words, the council are saying don't come to us for a grant, but refer to get a grant from someone else.

with a £1500 budget, that should mean an alright pitch. a £750 budget means cheap and cheerful, no frills.

then again, what other options are available. it would be unpopular to charge them at the gate. if someone is on a low wage or not working, they may not be able to support the club so the club lose out that way.

raising the players subs from £4 to 3£0, but if the player is in a low wage, that will cut into their income budget.
If someone is unemployed, they won't be able to pay the players subs.

away games relies on volunteer cars, coaches or minibus. i used to take players in my car at one time, and didn't even contemplate of asking for petrol money (but that's me).. if i did the same thing today, i would really have second thoughts if players subs went up. so the fun has been taken out and replaced with an economic grip.

advertsing, sponsorships could work, but try asking an existing sponsor for some more money.
as a company such as leekes of crosshands, ask them if they would be interested. or jj motors.
or any company or firm in a locality.. if things were that easy, everyone would be sponsored by argos, tesco, morrisons...
companies have no money.

which goes back to fundraising. grand days out, carnivals, concerts, discos all end up with permissions and licence fees. so if someone raises £100, that would be swallowed up in licence fee. an entertainment licence at a club to hold a disco or a live band to raise funds costs money, but once it's paid, they have to do it on a regular basis to keep the ball rolling. and when people are already cutting back by going out, it's a hard cycle to break out of.

they've already said in the council budget that they are slashing the roads maintanence budget which is kind of dangerous.

of a happy medium can be achieved, all's the better. BUT if someone cannot afford the extra £26 next season for football, someone may say oh it's only £26.. clubs are already struggling to pay the £49 never mind anything else.

passerby said...

the welsh national assembly have started debating this situation now. but... the usual answer is, it's between the clubs & associations and the councils.

i do suspect that a certain minister is only looking at it from what he has been told by a council.

i like to keep politics out of sport but this is something that has not really happened before and aught everyone by suprise, and not a pleasent one.

some AM's are not fully conversant with what is involved.
They keep on talking about cubs getting grants, and promote sportwales.. at the end of the day, sportwales lotto is almost as useful as an ashtray on a motorbike to clubs who have existing facilities.

i think i cannot say anymore on the matter as all roads seem to lead to rome - privatising sports pitches. pay to watch, pay to play.

once upon a time, someone would be rewarded for playing for their town or village.
Now it's pay to play for your town

If council reckon comparing carway to cardiff city is the same equality, i suggest to think again. and the only other option left is to take it to a from of protest (if they listen).

if there was a way for a club to compromise, they would look at it.
as i mentioned, some associations are willing to take the asset transfer. some may take the transfer sailing blind.
some won't take it at all for whatever reason.
if there was a a way for them to make a contribution to keep the games going, they would. bUt the options are too difficult to get a practical solution.

if there is nobody else to maintain the pitch that works out cheaper than a council, the only option is to stay with the council and pay the higher fee or take on asset transfer and pay the council to cut the grass. which is the same thing.

the local press has done a good job of highlighting it.

playing football every saturday home and away for ten months a season is NOT the same as popping into a local bowling alley once a month for 90 mins.. even though any bowling alley in the uk is an expensive venture that involves million of pounds, and running costs. but the frequency of players coming and going supercedes the 22 players in a football match or 30 in rugby, not including any substitutes if needed. is there a level playing field between tenpin bowling and crown green bowling? or 10 oin and football?

passerby said...

if 10 pin lasts 10 years before relacing the wodden slats when they wear down eventually, there is an extraordinary amount of money to build one lane never mind ten.. anyway, £100,000 per year is needed generated by xxxx amount of variable players... football is restricted to 22 per match usually one game a fortnight on average, and roughly £2000 per year.

in terms of minutes per play, football and rugby is around 2 pence per player. 10 pin bowling around 13 pence or 26 pence if single player. golf around 6 pence but takes more time for the obvious reason. cricket is slightly different as it does not involve all the players on the pitch at the same time, but works out around two pence a minute. swimming 6 pence.

a game of football lasts 90 minutes plus any injury time, or extra time if needed, so the time is set. same as rugby. go to a leaisure centre for a swim and you pay for the hour even if only required for 30 mins. could they do half hour rates? then again, if asomeone is on a low income, they can harly afford to go to a leisure centre. hire a council artificail pitch £40 for an hour, £60 and variants, is 60 pence per minute divided by the number of players, indoor 5 a side isn't far off cheaper.

tennis hasn't been discussed as it is variable just how long 3 or 5 sets takes to play, and that would upset a few people waiting to get onto a court. but usually people play for enjoyment and could stay for an hour or two and leave if a queue starts building, and may return later when a court is free again

Anonymous said...

Back when I played West Wales rugby groundsmen were the local sheep!

passerby said...

a council member who happens to be on the comittee has a pre-determined interest. they want shot of them.
a councillor who is against the cuts may have a prejudicial interest because they participate, know someone who does, maybe is a club member.

it's an awkward position as the premutations are greater.
one st is determined to close them and the other half determined to keep them open, there's bound to be some form of predetermination somewhere along the lines.

if the council can't afford the maintanence and the clubs cannot afford the maintanence, is a struggle.

but do not forget, the council were happy enough to do business with the clubs when the going was good as rent is income for them. soon as the money has dried up, they are off like a shot.
someone will still be paying for the lease so they still be doing business. just the maintanence side of things have been lumped onto the clubs regardless of any long term strategy and consequences.

some areas handed back the freehold to the council. so why don't the county just hand the freehold back.

does the land the pitches are on hold any commercial value?

it could be a case of flogging a dead horse. at the same time, if the land has no value, and if the council have been receiving income from renting out the dead horse. and when they have been receiving income and not ploughing any of it back in and leading and contributing to the dire situation that exists now.

That is the problem sometime when a councillor is also a member of a community councillor, and ends up having nobody to replace them when there is a conflict of interest. so either a report gets withdrawn completely as you mentioned or whoever remains carries on.
when it affects so many communities, it deserves to go to full council if it cannpt be managed in committee especially when most had to withdraw. but still has a conflict of interest
wherever it is held but at least ot gives the others the chance to debate. which may come to the conclusion that it's a predetermined programme.
If it went back to community level, a declaration of interest takes place and the member has to leave the room and cannot take part.

passerby said...

OMG - am i dreaming or imagining this? ccc delaying tactic? jeez they really are something else.

request made: feb 10.. please supply a total breakdown of all monies, including monies allocated for subsidy grants to support sports clubs and or community organisations with a sport theme within the county

reply:Please confirm whether your request is solely concerned with information on grants applied for by sports clubs/organisations and awarded to them.

Anonymous said...

EU FUNDS 2014–2020 - Erasmus+

Sport funding focusses on co-operation and activities in grassroots sport.

passerby said...

anon 20:40 what am i looking for in your link?
click either community chest or develpment grant

Who cannot apply? Existing activities / projects that have already started.. Maintenance, repair or replacement of current equipment or facilities

passerby said...

it was a coincidence earlier when lo and behold the news of the review came through. which is good news of course, it is appreciated but doesn't cover this season, and by the time 2015-16 comes, some may drop out, but hope that as many as possible can manage to find the extra £26

second thoughts about getting a goat doesn't really roll the green or keep the grass level but the gesture was there..

as i been concentrating on football, cricket is next.
what has bugged me is when a pitch is 150% the area of a football pitch, how come the fee is cheaper?

cricket does not need intense outfield treatment. does it need aerating? in theory no, but would be ok to release ground moisture after the winter months. dragmatting yes. once a pitch is established, and weed free it should be fine. around 4000 a year is recommended. under 2000 is trouble..

in ammanford, there is a seconds pitch in the recreation ground which isn't bad, built around an artificial square but the grass is ok and cut. whether this is taken out from the firsts budget in the park or not, im not sure.
rolling is more important and should be used as soon as spring starts, so in a few weeks they be starting preparing. light rolling to start, cross rolling.
no need to scarify as that just drags up grass anyway on the square, brushing would be better. fertisising is important. even the morning dew can interfere with the square so the moisture has to be swept off. the square should be around half an inch a all times so cutting that once a week should be done taking around an hour and a bit.. but don't forget, some pitches have a spare square so that must be maintained too, which i almost forgot about. then again, some may need seeding topsoil,and other maintanence so by now you all get the drift.

without sounding blunt, it does cost a fair whack. i'm coming up with £250 to £300. where they got the £590 from is a mystery, but it'll take a lot more of regular work to get that high, depending in other works such as holes in the square and stump and crease areas.. takes around an hour to fix a couple of 6 inch holes and involves a tamping pole, bit of loam, brush and mix. right old fiddly job

Anonymous said...

Sorry passerby the comment wasn't specific to you but I hope you will find something that might be of help on the Erasmus + website.

Anonymous said...

This is very interesting; Commission ... opens investigations into Spanish football clubs. "The first investigation concerns possible tax privileges. The second one covers a widely reported land transfer ... The third one deals with guarantees given by ... for loans that were used to finance the local clubs. Might Parc Y Scarlets be next on their list?

State aid and sport:

Anonymous said...

He's like a bad penny! What was it Meryl Gravell said about monkeys and some other imbecile said about fringe benefits and attracting the right calibre of staff?

WestWalesNewsReview said...

Delighted that the West Wales News Review blog has readers, great, but just to clarify that I'm not personally the author of the 'bad penny'comment.

passerby said...

oh, erasmus.. Any projects using sports in the context of education and training or youth activities.
Collaborative Partnerships support the development, transfer and/or implementation of innovative practices in sport and physical activity.

doesn't say anything about who is actually eligible, start up or pre-existing. i suspect third sector involment somewhere along the lines. thanks anyway.