Saturday 26 July 2014

"A development most councils would give their eye teeth for"

When Roger Jones, Carmarthenshire County Council's Head of Resources, attended his last meeting of the full council a few weeks ago before retiring, councillors marked the end of an era. He was one of the very few senior officers to come from Carmarthenshire and to have spent his entire career working in local government in the county. Councillors were fulsome in their tributes, and it was noted several times that he treated taxpayers' money as though it was his own.

Nobody gave any examples of his prudence and reluctance to see taxpayers' money wasted, but one which springs to mind was his objection to the extraordinary deal cooked up when the council sold a long lease on a former overflow car park at Parc y Scarlets to Marstons. Readers will remember that although the land had been leased to the Scarlets, they had in reality never paid anything for it, but still ended up with around £600,000 of the £850,000 sale price.

Objections from Roger Jones and Jonathan Fearn, Head of Corporate Property, were swept aside and the two officers were over-ruled. When the bizarre details of the deal eventually became public, council leader Kevin Madge went on the offensive in his by now familiar role as fall guy. It was a development most council's (sic) would give their eye teeth for. Cllr Siân Caiach was being hysterical, he said, in a statement which had clearly been written by somebody else, before going on to claim that "the facilities" had created 193 jobs.

It is not clear which facilities he was referring to, but at a guess it was probably the Marstons pub and the Scarlets bar and shop in Eastgate. 107 of those jobs, it seems, were accounted for by builders and shop fitters most of whom would have spent just a few weeks working on the sites.

Some, not many, of the remaining 86 full and part-time jobs would have been accounted for by the Scarlets' Red Room and shop in the Eastgate development in Llanelli. Under the deal, the Scarlets were given £280,000 in "allowable expenses" to cover the cost of fitting out the shop and bar, and they eventually opened in August 2013, with Kevin Madge on hand to cut the red ribbon.

Less than a year later, and the shop has closed. The Scarlets have been left holding the lease, and the premises will now apparently be used as an overflow for the Red Room, although how often it will be pressed into use is not at all clear.

A meeting of the Scarlets Supporters Trust this week heard that the shop had closed and that the Red Room was struggling. KooGa, the retailer which had taken over the running of the shop, could not justify running it because of the lack of footfall in Eastgate.

On the wider issue of the ongoing crisis in Welsh rugby, the deadline set by Regional Rugby Wales for an agreement with the WRU came and went over a week ago. It seems that the two sides are back in negotiation again and that the very public slanging match has ended, at least for the time being, with supporters being told that the regions' "Plan B" (going it alone without the WRU) was still an option.


Blodwen said...

Mr James, in his monthly message from the Kremlin to staff, is full of horror stories warning about how many cuts will have to be made in coming years: staff redundancies, reduction in services etc etc. One would hope that one of the cuts envisaged would be the financial support of both the Scarlets and the other white elephants which we are bankrolling instead of ensuring that frontline services are protected.

Jac o' the North, said...

In the case of the Scarlets "going it alone" can only mean one thing - more expense for the ratepayers of Carmarthenshire.

Anonymous said...

Are the Scarlets 2012 -2013 accounts still overdue?

Cneifiwr said...

Anon 09.59 - yes.

I for one really hope that a way can be found out of this mess to give professional rugby in the region a sound and sustainable future.

It does bring major benefits, and the supporters are passionate and long-suffering, but the council's deep involvement was misconceived and ultimately poisonous.

Anonymous said...

I thought we paid £400k+ to kit out Eastgate accommodation for Council office use and £250k a year rent for 20 years to increase footfall, but this heavy expenditure has not created enough footfall, apparently.

I am led to understand that council workers came from another council-owned office that was just 30 years old,

obviously lowering the footfall there.

Footfall is not nearly as important as money in the pockets of the feet owners -- or the lack on money.