Wednesday 30 November 2016

Cost neutral?

Update 1 December

Simon Thomas, the Plaid AM, has called on Ken Skates to move quickly to make a decision on the Egin grant.

He argues that no Welsh Government money is being used to relocate S4C's headquarters, but that the creation of a cluster of creative industry businesses around the new centre is a much bigger plan, and one he supports.

Without the cluster, it is hard to see that the relocation of a few dozen jobs from Cardiff would bring anything more than marginal benefit to Carmarthen.

UWTSD's lack of transparency, and some would say honesty, in its handling of the project has rightly attracted criticism, but if the scheme is to have any meaningful impact, it is vital that funding for the cluster is put in place.


An extraordinary row has broken out about the relocation of S4C's headquarters to Carmarthen after it emerged that University of Wales Trinity Saint David's (UWTSD) has applied to the Welsh government for a grant of up to £6 million to fund the development, known as Yr Egin.

News of the grant application broke late last week, and has been greeted with anger by those who supported rival bids from other towns, with suggestions that the UWTSD bid was not entirely honest and calls for the bidding process to be re-opened.

Yesterday questions were asked in the Senedd:

(Diolch i Seimon Brooks)

Ken Skates suggested that the funding gap had arisen because of problems in obtaining EU funding. More on that below.

He went on to say that the government's response to the grant application would now depend on UWTSD being able to demonstrate that the application would bring additional value, and that the new centre would create jobs which would not otherwise have been created by S4C's decision to move to Carmarthen.

However,  the minister was keen to distinguish between the new S4C headquarters and the wider plan to house companies in the creative industries.

As things stand, the project is in a mess with many unanswered questions.

Work on the building is due to begin in December. Will that now go ahead? To what extent is the project dependent on the grant? To what extent was it clear when S4C opted for Carmarthen in March 2014 that the project was, at least in part, dependent on grant funding? What happened to an application for EU funding which UWTSD told Carmarthenshire County Council was being prepared back in April 2015?

Don't expect answers to these questions this side of Christmas. Meanwhile, UWTSD will have to jump through a good many more hoops before Skates makes a decision weeks and probably months from now.

It is unlikely that the growing number of influential critics of the Carmarthen decision will give up and go away. Here are some of them:

 "Remember that Aberystwyth and others applied for this project. Carmarthen won. Would it be fair to give more money to this bid?"

And here is Siân Gwenllian, Assembly Member for Arfon, raising a red flag:

("Up to £6m in public money to relocate S4C to Yr Egin? No cost in plan to relocate to Caernarfon!! Time to re-think?")

The next day Siân was asking more questions:

("Clarity needed - does the plan need government money to go ahead? Or does the university want to add to the plan at the last minute?")

Richard Wyn Jones, Professor of Welsh Politics at Cardiff University, was even more blunt, arguing logically enough that if UWTSD was asking for money to build the headquarters, it was asking for money to house S4C.

"This is a real scandal. If this had been known at the time, S4C's decision would have had to be different."

In other tweets, Professor Jones describes what has happened as "deeply cynical behaviour" and wonders whether S4C knew when it made its decision that funding was not in place to build the new headquarters.

S4C will be a tenant in the new building, and it opted for Carmarthen on the basis that UWTSD's proposals would be cost neutral. Work on the new centre, which is expected to create 98 jobs of which 55 will be S4C staff relocating from Cardiff, is due to begin in December.

The hope is that the partial relocation of S4C to Carmarthen will bring hi-tech media companies in its wake, creating a hub, and give the Welsh language a much-needed boost in an area where "economic regeneration" has all too often boiled down to jobs in burger joints, and developing yet more low-pay retail capacity topped up with more unwanted office space (see Eastgate in Llanelli).

Enter Carmarthenshire County Council

Back in April 2015 Carmarthenshire County Council's "Welsh Language Advisory Panel" met representatives from UWTSD and S4C to discuss the project. The minutes show that an application for EU funding was in preparation.

It may be that the application got caught up with the Brexit vote, but equally plausibly it may be that Carmarthenshire County Council's cavalier management of EU grants and ongoing investigations put paid to UWTSD's hopes of obtaining European funding. The council has since been quietly stripped of responsibility for managing whatever is left of EU grant funding.

As a reminder, Meryl Gravell awarded millions of pounds in EU grants to shell companies with no trading record (see Meryl's Millions for one example).

Among the schemes to receive millions of pounds in EU money was a meat processing plant which, it turned out, was simply relocating from Carmarthen to Cross Hands with only vague hopes that a few new jobs would be created. Moreover, the money came from an EU fund managed by the council which was not supposed to aid primary food processing. Another scheme saw the development of an office block for a property lettings firm.

What is undoubtedly the case is that the millions of pounds squandered on projects which will at best create a few low-paid jobs would have been far better spent on creating a hub for hi-tech, high paid jobs in and around Yr Egin.

Given the importance of this project to the town and the county, it is disappointing to put it mildly that neither the council's chief executive, Mark James, nor his two assistant chief executives could find time to attend the meeting back in April 2015.

Even more so because the Egin project has very important ramifications for the huge, embryonic Carmarthen West housing development to the south of the proposed new centre.

A key feature of this green field development sprawling its way across open countryside is a £5 million link road which will link UWTSD with the A40. The county council has picked up the bill for the road, but is hoping to recoup the money from a £12,500 per house roof tax on new houses completed above a certain threshold.

Just as the council was limbering up to begin negotiations with the developers, who include what appear to be a consortium of shy and retiring East Anglian grain barons, Meryl Gravell popped up helpfully declaring that the road would be needed for the new S4C headquarters anyway.

In the case of Carmarthen West, those sunlit uplands appear to be receding into the distant future, with reliable reports that punters are not flocking to buy the relatively small number of houses built so far.

If the Egin project fails, it may be that all Carmarthen gets is a very expensive stretch of asphalt running across some scenic countryside and going nowhere in particular.

In line with the council's policy of mitigating the impact of large housing developments by adopting Welsh names for new roads, perhaps they should call it Ffordd Mark James Way to remind us all of what he did for Carmarthenshire when he has gone.


Anonymous said...

Is there no end to the chaos which is synonymous with Carmarthen Council.Meryl is quite a girl wading regardless for her own reputation as long as it helps Mark James.

Anonymous said...

So what is the difference between relocating jobs from Cardiff to Carmarthen and relocating jobs from Carmarthen to Cross Hands.
It is a merry-go-round done with public monies whether they originate in Brussels or Cardiff Bay.
The Vice Chancellor, one time a Deputy Chair of the Welsh Language Board, is an Empire builder .
He should concentrate on the University's primary purpose of educating students.
Of the 120 plus HE Institutions in the UK when UWTSD decides to send a return to the Sunday Times annual rankings survey, it usually is among the bottom five !

Anonymous said...

Moving S4C to Carmarthens is a pointless political exercise. Its too late. Fine if thsi happened 20 yrs ago when it employed loads of people, but it now does not . It wont create jobs in Carmarthen, what will happen is this:
The big boys who produce tv programmes for s4c and who have prospered as a result of S4c commissioning programmes from them , have built empires and some sold out to London based companies. These boys wil chase the money - ie via relocation grant to Carmarthen and open an office there, thus further undermining the local , small production companies based in west wales - not that they are getting much work anyway as the big 4 cream the vast majority of S4C comissions - who cream a lot off to pay their shareholders rather than focus on producing quality TV .
The recent and current managers of s4C have no vision just fat paychecks, and are culpapble for the ever decreasing viewing numbers.
Anything run by the Drindod will be a farce, it will not be creative, enterprising arts hub, it will be a broing beaurocratic centre created by a dry, pseudo academic establishment built on a house of sand.Situated on the edge of town it will not be an asset to town life. It will be more Canberra than Melbourne.

I think i want to emigrate when i see what the Welsh people in power do to their own country and institutions, shameful to see the pigs' snouts in troughs, backslapping each other for unfeaseable and sterile unsustainable projects

Alun Lenny said...

Mae'r ymrannu yma rhyngom ni'r Cymry Cymraeg yn amlwg yn fêl ar fysedd bobol sy'n casau'r iaith. Mae agwedd negyddol a dinistriol y cyfryngau a blogwyr yn siomedig dros ben. Onid yw gwersi chwerw'r canrifoedd wedi dysgu dim i ni? It's sad that people should let their hatred of the Welsh language and CCC blind them to the obvious employment advantages that relocating S4C and developing Yr Egin as a media hub will bring to Carmarthen. In 2000-10 we lost 10,000 of our young people from Carmarthenshire. Surely, developments like this that help keep them here should be grasped with both hands - not met with bileous cynicism. As for the link road, that's been on the cards for many years and is sorely needed to alleviate the long queues at Johnstown traffic lights at peak times, as local people will testify. The housing developments and Yr Egin has just brought the scheme forward.

Sian Caiach said...

Cynically I've always thought this was a ruse to put in an access road for the new 1200 home development near the site of the possible S4C admin staff building. Looking at the plans the parking area seemed a bit small and the grass roof a little steep for mowing. WAs it ever really planned to be built?
CCC seemed to be paying for the road with a vague hope of getting it back from the developers with a half a million loan from trinity as I recall. First part of road has already been put in place with traffic lights and a junction going nowhere behind St. David's.With £300 million in debts what's another 5 to CCC? The logic of how the new businesses would be generated with the tech stuff being left in Cardiff was never explained.

Anonymous said...

30NOv 21.20 Perhaps you should take up your idea and emigrate ,perhaps to Trump land ,Wales has been run by others and we can not do more of a mess than have full control of our assets,decision making ,not wasting money on foreign wars and grandiose weapon systems etc .

Anonymous said...

Is it really surprising that people will be cynical when there has been so much publicity surrounding much of the way business is conducted on gaol hill.

Anonymous said...

“hatred of the Welsh language” – I see that Cllr Lenny is complying with the Council’s long standing policy of attacking anyone who dares to question CCC’s decisions by attributing spurious, malicious reasons to their motives or calling into question their integrity.

It seems that it’s going to be an especially festive Christmas this year for the developers of Carmarthen West as there now will be no chance of CCC being able to recoup any money from them for completed houses. Cllr Lenny not only obligingly confirms Meryl’s statement that the road was required for Yr Egin but also that it’s “been on the cards for many years and is sorely needed to alleviate the long queues at Johnstown traffic lights”.
If the developers run out of turkeys at their celebrations they’ll know where to find plenty more.

Anonymous said...

The 'University' makes much of 'helping to save the language' - but they have just axed their Welsh for Adults provision and made a number of tutors redundant. Their actions speak for themselves.

Anonymous said...

just to let you knwo I am a patriot a nationalist a fluent welsh speaker , I am cynical because I know

Dont accuse me of being anti Welsh because compare to a lot of people I AM A wELSH Llanguage extremist, but i reject the culture of mediocrity in Wales and neptotism and half backed grant funded waste of public monies. OK Mr and sadly if you speak out i, as I have done , you lose your job and are considered a pariaha

Just to let you know i am a patriot, a nashi and love this country and culture dearly , but that does not make me ignodrant to how this culture of mediocrity and nepotism works