Friday 5 September 2014

Meryl Speaks to the Nation

Update 8 September

According to a reliable source, the £2.63m grant approved by Meryl in June was not for Celtica Foods, but a separate speculative development.

Update 7 September

Thanks to Redhead (comments below) for drawing attention to an award of £1.99 million to JBCH Developments Ltd for a "food grade industrial unit" in Cross Hands in April 2012. This was approved by Meryl's colleague, Clive Scourfield, who stood down at the May 2012 election.

The mystery deepens, not least because the company's accounts for that year show it was dormant with no activity whatsoever.

The £1.99m grant does tally with a story put out in March of this year by the council's press office. There we are told that the total project cost is £4.4m - (£1.99m+£2.63m=£4.62m).In addition to that is a subsidised loan from Finance Wales and a £1m repayable grant (or interest free loan) to Celtica for the same plant.

Records show that JBCH did not actually acquire the land at Cross Hands until January 2014 - almost two years after the first £1.99m grant was approved.

Update 6 September

The latest revelations came yesterday in a report on Y Post Prynhawn, BBC Radio Cymru's main early evening news programme. The story was not carried on the BBC's English language news programmes. The local press has also so far been silent except for the Llanelli Star which has a version very close to the report in the Western Mail. That does not imply plagiarism, merely that both newspapers were working off the same misleading account put out by the council's press office.

A link to any online BBC article will be posted if and when it becomes available.

Developing the industrial and retail estate at Cross Hands is one of the council's biggest current projects, and as we saw with Meryl's interview yesterday, we can expect the top brass to dismiss any criticism of their actions by claiming that this is all about creating jobs.

To put things into perspective, most of the jobs at the meat processing plant are being relocated from Carmarthen, although "it is hoped" that up to 32 new jobs will be created there over the next five years.

Just a short hop from the JBCH site is a large branch of Co-op which is understood to have cut its workforce by 62 in the last few months. The planned new Sainsbury's superstore at Cross Hands (a development enthusiastically supported by the council) is expected locally to deliver the final blow and bring about the eventual closure of the Co-op supermarket there - all rather ironic for a Labour-led council.


BBC Cymru has followed up the Western Mail's report earlier this week on the £2.63 million grant awarded to a company in Cross Hands with more truly shocking revelations.

Firstly it has emerged that Meryl Gravell approved the grant (in a 15 minute meeting behind closed doors) after the council's Director of Resources, Roger Jones, had asked the Wales Audit Office to investigate the application. Mr Jones acted after an unnamed councillor had expressed serious concern about the way in which the grant was awarded.

It is hard to believe that Cllr Gravell would not have been aware that the application had been referred to the WAO, so why press ahead and approve it, knowing full well that the WAO has called the council's grants management into question, and despite the turmoil over the WAO's public interest reports earlier this year?

To make matters worse, the grant was awarded before JBCH Developments Ltd had entered into a contract to build the meat processing plant, or even it seems, before any company had decided to move to the site. As the BBC reporter, Aled Scourfield, put it, this was "a speculative development". Perhaps speculative grant would have been more accurate.

As the BBC pointed out, the £2.63m went to a company which was incorporated in 1997 but which had never traded and has a share capital of just £2. Remember also that the land on which the new plant will be built was sold by Carmarthenshire County Council to JBCH for an undisclosed sum in January 2014, with the help of a subsidised loan from Finance Wales.

All of this calls into question the honesty of the response the Council gave to the Western Mail only a few days ago. The newspaper was led to believe that everything was in order, and the impression was conveyed that the Council had asked the WAO to take a look just to make sure that all the rules had been followed.

County Hall appears to have realised that this looks very bad indeed, and so Meryl took the highly unusual step for her of answering questions from the media. What we got was exactly what we have all come to expect. Her job was to make sure the council's officers had done their job properly, she said. Everything was fine, and it was all about creating jobs, jobs, jobs. "This is a good news story", she said.

Asked why the grant had been approved before there was even a client for the site, Cllr Gravell said that had not been a problem "for us" because the officers had made sure everything was OK.

Twice during the interview Meryl ("we always defend our officers") appears to shift responsibility onto the officers who processed the grant.

The WAO confirmed that it was still investigating the grant and that it hoped to meet the council soon to discuss its findings.

This one is set to run and run.

Meanwhile there have been more extraordinary twists in the grants scandal in Pembrokeshire, with another outstandingly informative report from the Pembrokeshire Herald.


Anonymous said...

Another scandal - another whitewash. What's new in Carmarthenshire. Millions given away to big business by the same people, who have through dishonest practices, made our property undesirable and therefore unsaleable.

Not forgetting Jacqui Thompson's home too.

how many others? We need officers to come out of the woodwork - 'only dead fish go with the flow'.

Anonymous said...

Whilst I fully accept that the allocation of public money must be scrupulously fair and legal there are also considerations to be made in terms of people's jobs and livelihoods.

Whilst you sit in your garret in NCE people's jobs are at risk if the development does no go ahead. these are real people and should not be treated as pawns in your rankings against the council.

You clearly have a hatred for Ms Gravell which comes through in your blog. you are belittling towards her and take every opportunity to do her down.

She has one advantage over you. She has stod for election many times and has been elected each time. Why don't you have the courage of your convictions and stand at the next election. you can ten take her on in a democratic way rather than your constant moaning and sneering.

Remember the people who will be affected by this are real people with mortgages and debts. You seem intent of wanting nothing other than the scheme to fail and the jobs to go.

Cneifiwr said...

No, I don't want the scheme to fail.

As Sir David Lewis pointed out, we have a council which is acting like a law unto itself - virtues such as honesty and integrity have been ditched.

These are very large sums of public money, and the public has a right to expect that basic rules are adhered to.

Not to do that is very stupid if you value your own reputation because what the public sees is sleeze and worse.

If you are a councillor or council officer (which you appear to be), remember what the WAO said about reputational risk.

Get a grip, as one of the commenters on this blog likes to say.

Anonymous said...

I understand that this money is raised from private companies and from the 4 sponsoring councils , Carms, Swansea, Neath Port Talbot & Pembs and that as in many WG inspired ideas one local council takes the lead - hence Carms in this case I understand that over 250 jobs are at stake here

Emlyn Uwch Cych said...

Yffach, 11:08. You seem to care about democracy, but a living participatory democracy needs more than blindly chosing a councillor every 4 or 5 years.

It means constantly holding them to account, and if necessary putting the flames to their feet every now and again.

Speaking of flames, if you hold such a candle for Meryl, perhaps you could have a quiet word about transparency, integrity, equality, things like that. Maybe even give her a quick reprise in the Nolan principles of public service, eh?

Because as far as I can see, she is ... actually, better not go there in case Cneifiwr gets a writ for publishing libel against her.

I don't hate, Meryl, and I'm sure neither does Cneifiwr. What I hate is the death of real democratic accountability in our local government.

Anonymous said...

The ONLY reason she gets re-elected is down to the promises she makes to her ward. Hardly bribery, but she delivers to those that matter to her.

Whether she is qualified to make decisions on where £M's of public money should be spent without consultation is another matter. I don't recollect her accountancy qualifications or indeed any other. In fact, if memory serves me correctly, she joined the council as a typist/secretary and 'wormed' her way from there.

Obviously she would like us all to think she is highly qualified, but the truth is different, as is the same for mr james - his recent degree bestowed by Trinity was that of an honorary type. Thankfully they have seen fit not to award the same to ms gravel.

More and more information is coming to light and the defence of these individuals is becoming increasingly difficult to justify. Just because she got re-elected does not make her the right person for the role.

The winds of change are beginning to blow and the long overdue changes in Carmarthen County Council will [hopefully] soon be implemented for the better. The sooner this shower are removed the better for all.

Cneifiwr said...

Anon@12.51 - the money comes from the South West Wales Property Development Fund, and is basically EU money. It is emphatically not private money.

The 250 jobs bit probably comes from Meryl's claim on the radio yesterday that the fund had been used to create 250 jobs.

Let's hope nobody audits those claims. 40+ of the jobs at the meat processing plant will come from Carmarthen - you can bet that they will be bundled into the figures and called new jobs.

When Sainsbury's opens it will probably destroy almost as many jobs as it creates - but jobs destroyed don't count.

That is not to suggest that no new jobs have been created by these grant schemes, but don't believe the council press releases.

Anonymous said...

Surely you are not all labouring under the impression that our Meryl agreed to disperse a couple of million pounds in a 15 min meeting. Tell me that you don't think that !

Could you not even consider, just for a minute, that the grant application went through a process and her 15 min meeting was the final sign off.

I will tell you what I think :

The new shopping area in Carmarthen is fab.
Eastgate in Llanelli is fab
Pemberton is fab

All of these areas were in dire need of redevelopment and have been thanks to the current council. Not to everybody's taste but much much better than what went before.

Cneifiwr said...

Anon@19.45 No, I don't think that. Meryl comes at the end of the chain and makes the final decision. She must have known the WAO was investigating the application, and that alone should have caused her to defer a decision. Apart from everything else about it which smells like a week old kipper.

And why did the grant go to the construction company rather than the client?

Anonymous said...


Anonymous 6 September 2014 11:08

"Remember the people who will be affected by this are real people with mortgages and debts."

Apart from sounding like a turgid party political broadcast written by someone else, our correspondent seems to be making the moral point that because ordinary people benefit from dodgy deals and worse, those deals are legitimate and acceptable.

I'm delighted to hear this, as I'm planning to rob a bank and will distribute some of the money to ordinary people with mortgages and debts. I know I can count on the full support of anonymous when I am on trial.

Redhead said...

JBCH appears to have had 2 name changes

Previous Names
JONES BROS (XHANDS) LIMITED (changed 18/06/2009)