Carmarthenshire Council Executive Board will be rubber stamping the Agreement on Monday. It will then go to full council for the final nod of approval.
From what I can fathom out, here are a few points;
The Joint Committee will consist of the four council leaders and several co-opted representatives from the health boards and the universities. Only the four council leaders will have a vote. However, this is against a backdrop and input of the programme board, economic strategy board of business interests, finance and legal board, and other vested interests. As lip service to scrutiny, a councillor joint scrutiny board will be set up which will be run Carmarthenshire-style, ie surgically sanitised officer reports, engineered to avoid challenge and dissent.
Carmarthenshire Council will be the official ‘Accountable Body’, essentially then it’s Mark James, aided and abetted by Linda Rees Jones and the section 151 finance officer. No, it’s not April 1st. Mr James, as we know, is the lead chief executive for the whole Deal, the principle advisor to the Joint Committee, and will be known as the ‘Accountable Officer’. What a joke. The other councils should be aware that the ‘Accountable Officer’ thinks nothing of breaching promises and was happy to renege on an undertaking to hand money over to the council, and pocketed it himself. Speaking from experience, I wouldn’t believe a word he says. We wouldn’t want the City Deal money ending up in the gutter would we?
I refer readers, and interested parties, to my previous post City Deal – a scandal in the making, and the wrong man for the job?
The private investment, the funding arrangements, and borrowing requirement for the four councils are still not clear but essentially, the ‘Accountable Body’ will be in control of the purse strings…what could possibly go wrong? A recent letter from the Welsh Minister shows that even the Welsh Government is confused as to Mr James’ role in local government;
In Carmarthenshire the main project is the Wellness private-health-care hot-tub extravaganza, a Mark James vision he clearly plans to bequeath to the County when he finally moves on. If nothing else, it will be something to keep the auditors in gainful employment in years to come. The Yr Egin ‘cultural hub’ has already cost £16m of public money, how much of that has come from the council is not entirely clear.
The reality of the City Deal governance will be somewhat different than the tick-box legalese of the official agreement. One of the ‘Principles’ is for councils to be ‘open and trusting in their dealings with each other’. We don’t have to look very far back to see just how open and trusting Carmarthenshire was with Pembrokeshire over the speculative property grants, see ‘Councils at war‘ leading to Pembs councillors concluding that Carmarthenshire was indeed a Sicilian cartel. These grants were administered by Carmarthenshire, like the City Deal, and the audits were shrouded in mystery, and mismanagement covered up.
The ambiguity identified by Neath Port Talbot over the past few months is still there with uncertainty around the use of capital receipts (as I read it, a council could sell any asset and use the money for a city deal project) and the divving up of funds, controlled by Carmarthenshire, is likely to set one council off against another before a once-in-a-generation brick has been laid. That’s only when the government funding does start to trickle in, up until then each council, all making cuts to frontline services, will have to fund the projects themselves.
The running costs for the Deal will be met by the four councils to to the tune of £1m over five years, plus an additional 1.5% top-slice of the governments’ contribution. This again will be controlled, and audited by Carmarthenshire…
As for Freedom of Information requests, once again it is County Hall in overall control, a council far more concerned with reputation than truth. My own request for an earlier draft of the JWA was flatly refused under legal privilege, which is a fine start. The Agreement mentions the requirement for a ‘robust system’ for declarations of conflicts of interest, yet the ‘Accountable Officer’ is an officer who chose not to declare his own property and business empire to his employers.
The complex governance structure for the City Deal resembles a bloated quango, filled with conflicting interests and cosy arrangements (I bet the council hospitality boxes have been busy), set up to oversee a public/private scheme likely to benefit a few short term investors, and the egos, and wallets, of council chief executives, at massive public cost.
I will be watching.