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At the last Executive Board meeting (June 3rd) attended by former CEO Mark James the final item on the agenda was that old chestnut, the Wellness Village. Naturally, despite the scandals and the screaming calls for transparency, it was discussed behind closed doors. The secrecy was hardly surprising given that they nodded through the ‘officer recommendation’ to take the project to the next stage (and there are more stages..) and blow another £600,000 on ‘design development’ for the Sauna-by-the-swamp.

The rest of the discussion was, in smoke and mirrors councilspeak, “to acknowledge the process milestones and commissioning requirements for the alternative scenarios and the impact on completion dates” which roughly translates as cash still had to be found from somewhere (apparently this includes an unsuspecting Scottish university, firmly in their sights, and a new shedload of borrowing) and the whole thing will be mightily delayed and may miss out on the first round of City Deal funding anyway.

Whether ARUP plc will have the pleasure of this £600,000 commission isn’t known, or maybe Ffynnon Consultancy or Building and Estate Solutions will get a little look-in somewhere…who knows. Whatever the case, half a million has already been spent on design development and well over £300,000 on the planning application, currently the subject of a Welsh government stop notice, although, with recent activity on the site, this may be about to be lifted. Over £200,000 has been spent on legal costs, including the notorious Acuity Law report. That’s just from last year. In the previous financial year over a million was spent on design, development, and of course the inevitable ‘Masterplanning’…

Thanks to the toxic conduct of Mr James, Carmarthenshire Council is firmly, and permanently in the Governance dog-house, the ‘partners’ have scarpered (and so has Mr James), the councils are at loggerheads, and the whole project remains mired in scandal, and under police investigation. And given his involvement, I hope Mr James’ peaceful retirement is soon disturbed by a knock on the door from plod. However, to scrap it now would be to lose face, so, no matter what the final cost, or whether they have to ‘go it alone’, it will continue. For now.

In my view, the best outcome for everyone, including the rest of the county, crying out for investment, would be for the council to count its losses and go back to its original intention to build a leisure centre and a care home for Llanelli; not a private luxury spa, lining a handful of pockets, providing a few menial local jobs, and too expensive for anyone other than retired chief executives to use, commuting from Kuwait…with their pockets duly lined.

It is, of course a matter of priorities. Here are a couple of examples. At Wednesday’s full council meeting a Labour councillor tried to raise the serious financial problems and lack of resources faced by his, and other, local primary schools, he was silenced as it was spoiling the cosy feel-good presentation of the ‘visionary’ Corporate Plan.
All schools are struggling.

And at a scrutiny meeting on Monday the subject of public toilets arose. After ‘offloading’ as many facilities it could in 2013 (also in ridiculous secrecy) due to ‘financial pressures’, recent consultations attracted over 700 responses, including a plea for more Changing Places Facilities for profoundly disabled children and adults, and their carers. It turns out that there are only two in the whole county and both are privately run.

In general, the lack of public toilets is, arguably, a far more important issue to the 185,000 residents and the couple of million tourists than pouring cash into a failing, scandal-ridden vanity project, however, the councillors were told that there was absolutely no money in the budget to build more toilets, so ‘creative solutions’ had to be found…

As toilet provision, giving independence and dignity, is non-statutory, the council are fond of repeating that they are not obliged to provide facilities.

As it happens, they’re not obliged to provide a luxury spa and private health care vanity project either, but they’ve just found another £600,000 in the budget for that!