Saturday, 20 May 2017

Mystery of the Car Park - the Scarlets needed money and thanks to the council they got it

From previous blogs you will recall the high level of financial support from Carmarthenshire County Council for their pet project - The Scarlets Rugby Club and their even more amazing generosity to Nottingham based Leasing Company Henry Davidsons' Developments to whom the council gave away the Eastgate Llanelli, our Town Center Development after throwing millions of public money into the project. Then, remarkably, they managed to support both of their pet money pits in one single project - the Parc Y Scarlets Overflow Car Park Sale.

Ongoing development in 2016 when a hotel was being added to the Sessile Oak Pub on the left. Parc Y Scarlets  in distance. . 
Such is the web of mutual support in Carmarthenshire County Council that one pet project just has to help out another. The Eastgate has struggled to let out all of its shop units, the prices being pretty steep for Llanelli and anecdotally the management of the complex seem to prefer "national" businesses to local enterprises. However, the Scarlets were clearly an exception, were offered and occupied 2 East Gate units, a shop and a cafe, to promote the club, encourage visitors to the town centre and of course to make them some money.

Somehow the Scarlets ran up a shop fitting bill of nearly £300k with Eastgate Developers and leasing agents Henry Davidson Developments. I'm waiting for former Council Leader Meryl Gravell's memoirs to find out how this fine English firm got its claws into her.

Anyway, in order to pay off this debt the Scarlets and Carmarthenshire Council decided to sell a car park lease and split the profits, Due to the unfortunate fact that the Scarlets' new stadium has not managed to pack in thousands of new fans into the increased seating area provided, the overflow carpark was no longer needed but more cash was. However, the scandal was that although the Scarlets had been given the lease to the Car park for free, they got the lion's share of the proceeds as it was sold to Marsten's to build the Sessile Oak pub. The pub chain wanted to put up a hotel too, but it was originally declined by CCC to protect the hotel at the Eastgate. Now a hotel has been built on the car park as well, an unexplained u turn in that planning decision..

The ordinary county councillors generally treated like mushrooms, {kept in the dark and fed on manure} were told that the Authority would share the sale profits after the "usual disbursements" . The land registry showed that the car park lease was sold for £850k and CCC accounts showed that CCC got £200k. It turned out that after fees, valuation and paying off the Scarlet's debt to HDD, only £400k was left to be split, The usual disbursements in Carmarthenshire as you can see, are not exactly what one may expect. Following this heroic bailout the whole Scarlets' shop and cafe project folded, Was it ever a commercial proposition?

One sad issue of the whole case is when I pressed the Council's Executive Board member for resources and finance for an explanation of how half of £850k became £200k he told me the truth about where the money had gone. When I walked into his office to hear the explanation he was actually on the phone to chief executive Mark James who, even at the last minute, was trying to talk him out of spilling the beans. The same Jeff Edmunds, as leader of the Labour Group was later rejected out of hand by the Independents as a suitable coalition partner, presumably as he wasn't trusted to cover their backs,suspected of an unfortunate tendency to tell the truth.

The Scarlets have been under public scrutiny because of resentment by local residents of the huge amounts of public money spent on them , Like the car park deal there are other examples of County Council Executive financial decisions without scrutiny or clear explanation. More recently Llanelli House has benefited from a sudden and unexpected handout from the public purse of over £300k to fill an unexplained gap in their budget. Many more questionable hand outs have probably slipped under the radar.

How does a firm or institution qualify for the gravy train in Carmarthenshire? There seems to be a process which firmly encourages blindly throwing more of our money at pet projects that fail to make money as predicted in their original fantasy business plans and then desperately ask for more.

Is it just simply that failure to bail out these lame ducks will expose the original detail of the decisions to support them as flawed?


How many public bodies have the general motto" Never admit mistakes, never say sorry and hope you never get found out"? Quite a lot, I suspect.



Siân Caiach

  

2 comments:

  1. The other strange thing about this deal was that the two senior officers delegated to finalise the deal were adamant that the Scarlets' debt shouldn't be paid off out of the proceeds. A phone call from the chief executive, the day before the deal was struck, overruled their objections and the 'split' was signed off in favour of the club and to the detriment of the council taxpayer.

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  2. This blog has left its gathering of spectators completely charmed.
    Bitsane

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