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COASTAL: Who benefited?

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Coastal cash: £2m spent on revamping the Coleshill Centre Llanelli, then it was put up for sale

Coastal cash: £2m spent on revamping the Coleshill Centre Llanelli, then it was put up for sale

AFTER The Herald published its report on COASTAL last week (Nov 27) , we were contacted with further information that sheds a light on the way in which the Council has handled the project’s affairs.

While COASTAL was a project that stretched over six local authority areas, it was only Carmarthenshire’s handling of the COASTAL funds that came in for complaint and ineffective scrutiny.

In October 2011, a review by a firm of consultants (Wavehill) showed that not only had the targets been missed by a mile, but warned that the EU might well call time on the project.

Carmarthenshire County Council was quick to jump to the defence of a project whose funds it had misused to bolster its statutory obligations. Glossy newsletters were published showing that Carmarthenshire at least had met and/or exceeded selected and unverifiable targets, and the campaign culminated with the release of a slickly produced film showing what a wonderful job it had done. One of the Carmarthenshire newsletters published in July 2012 claimed that 89% of those taking part had had a positive outcome, although no definition of positive outcome was provided.

The Welsh European Funding Office (WEFO) was investigating, and WEFO wanted to know how COASTAL was going to achieve its goals with just £1.5 m left in the kitty. WEFO had also come up with a definition of what might constitute a “positive outcome” (this was nearly 3 months after Carmarthenshire boasted a success rate of 89%).

Reading through the minutes, it is clear that WEFO was bending over backwards to be fair and lenient. In-house courses which were not accredited would be classed as positive outcomes, for example. In plain terms, that means that participants could attend courses without any formal assessment by an external body to ascertain whether they had actually learned anything.

A little bit further down, and we read: “During the WEFO investigation into the complaint that ESF funded staff were undertaking statutory duties, the main form of evidence that we could supply were staff timesheets. The timesheets were all backed up by colour coded entries on the outlook calendar.”

The problem with WEFO investigations, as those in neighbouring Pembrokeshire know, is that they are not intended to uncover problems that will require the repayment of European grant money which has been subject to fraud. Pulling at the frayed corners of the funding blanket will, as the Welsh Government is well-aware, cause the whole thing to unravel. So dependent is the Welsh Government on European largesse that it makes sure that seldom – if ever – happens. Complexity in funding arrangements is intended to conceal where money goes walkabout than ensure value for money.

What this means is that suspicions had been raised that at least some of the participating authorities had been misusing EU funds to pay staff to perform statutory jobs. Although the minutes do not state this, Carmarthenshire in particular was under the spotlight.

Statutory duties were not eligible for ESF funding, and statutory duties, for anyone not familiar with the jargon, are job functions which councils are obliged by law to provide in areas such as children’s services and social care.

In a nutshell, what was being alleged was that the council had redirected money intended to help mainly vulnerable people to find jobs into creating council jobs.

The same document confirms not only that resources were used to fund statutory services, but that clients who were ineligible for the COASTAL scheme were seen by workers under its scope.

Carmarthenshire County Council’s Annual Report on Effectiveness of Social Services 2010-11 states, “We have more than doubled our number of personal advisers through securing European funding.”

Personal advisers are council staff with statutory duties responsible for young people leaving care.

An internal report prepared for the County Council confirms: “Three PA’s were allocated to care leavers… These included care leavers which were not eligible under the COASTAL scheme”.

It seems that what happened next was that WEFO representatives accepted COASTAL’s assurances that everything was in order, the timesheets were all correctly colour-coded, and life went on.

That may have been what WEFO was persuaded to believe, but the Council’s own internal inquiry, the results of which have been seen by The Herald states unequivocally: “Evidence has been found to show that claims submitted to the COASTAL project were not always consistent with work documented on client files.”

The solution proposed by the Council was drastic: “A decision has been taken to revisit all timesheets and claims.”

And the purpose of revisiting them was to: “ensure that these reflect work that was undertaken.”

In other words, doctoring evidence.

But that should not obscure the failure of the COASTAL project itself, which can best be described as ‘epic’.

The basis on which COASTAL was granted funding in the first place was that it would help 9,000 people, support 5,400 to gain a qualification and put 2,870 into long-term employment.

The original budget for the COASTAL project was £51.7 million spread over six local authority areas across four and half years.

Carmarthenshire County Council’s film on COASTAL’s ‘success’ disclosed that the project had

  • worked with nearly 1,000 people
  • supported nearly 600 to gain a qualification
  • helped nearly 100 to get a job”

While assisting 600 to gain a qualification is laudable and not be sniffed it, as we have seen above many of those courses were of limited utility to participants, sometimes of only a few hours’ duration, and delivered unrecognised ‘internal’ qualifications.

More startling is the jobs figure. The cost per job appears to be many thousands of pounds. In gross terms, looking at the jobs in isolation as an outcome, by the end of June 2011, the WHOLE COASTAL project had delivered full-time employment to – at most – 37 of those supported

Quite a few of those who found the jobs boasted of by Carmarthenshire County Council found them in the council’s staff canteens or at council-supported ventures, such as the Botanic Gardens.

Very, very few found jobs in the private sector, and it is questionable how sustainable and long-term some of the jobs that have been found really are.

The figure that states that COASTAL worked with nearly 1,000 people also begs an important question: namely, if 600 gained qualifications and 100 found a job, what happened to the other 300 in Carmarthenshire – thirty percent of those who were supposed to be supported and assisted by the scheme?

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Llanelli High Street shortlisted for prize

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LLANELLI HIGH STREET has been shortlisted in the Government’s Great British High Street Awards, in proud partnership with Visa, putting them in the running for up to £15,000.

After a rigorous selection process led by a panel of independent judges, the high street has been shortlisted for the Rising Star category, which celebrates high streets which are taking the lead to adapt and diversify.

The bid by Ymlaen Llanelli follows research commissioned by Visa in April 2019 demonstrating the positive impact that the local high street has on communities. The research found that nearly three quarters of consumers (71%) in Wales say that shopping locally makes them feel happy, with nearly half (45%) citing supporting local shops and knowing where their money is going as the main reason. Spending time with friends and family (25%) and offering a sense of community (18%) were other reasons cited for why high streets make people feel happier. The research also reveals that half of consumers (50%) feel that their high street gives them a sense of pride in their local community.

High Streets Minister Jake Berry MP said: “Congratulations to Llanelli for being shortlisted for the Rising Star Award for this year’s Great British High Street Awards.

“Llanelli high street is a hive of activity, with food festivals, childrens’ days and community get-togethers all part of the local calendar. A great example of how high streets can bring a renewed energy to communities.

“People are happier when they can see their hard-earned cash support local businesses. That is why we are celebrating those that go above and beyond to keep their high streets thriving for generations to come.”

Sundeep Kaur, Head of UK & Ireland Merchant Services at Visa, added: “We’ve seen some fantastic entries for this year’s Great British High Street Awards across both the Champion High Street and Rising Star categories. In particular, the desire to innovate stands out amongst this year’s entries, with high streets adapting to the challenges presented by a rapidly changing retail environment to find ways to thrive at a local level.

“As our research shows, high streets play a vital role at the heart of communities, so this is a great opportunity for those communities with shortlisted high streets to show their support by placing their votes on the Great British High Street website.”

Llanelli High Street is one of the 28 high streets that have been shortlisted for the Rising Star category, identifying high streets which are taking the lead to adapt and diversify. 12 high streets have been shortlisted in the Champion High Street category, which recognises the UK’s best high streets. All 40 high streets are now in the running to win a prize of up to £15,000 to be dedicated to a local high street initiative.

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Head Teacher at Primary school in Llanelli suspended

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THE HEAD TEACHER of a Welsh primary school has been suspended, it has been confirmed.

Catherine Lloyd-Jenkins, who is head at Ysgol Gymraeg Ffwrnes in Llanelli, has been suspended from her duties at the school with immediate effect.

Governors at the school have been unavailable for comment, but Carmarthenshire Council confirmed the news this morning.

It is understood that the chair of the governing body is currently out of the country, and the council would not comment further on the circumstances surrounding the suspension.

The council’s director of education, Gareth Morgans, said: “School staffing is a matter for the Governing Body, however, we can confirm the headteacher of Ysgol Ffwrnes has been suspended.

“It is not appropriate to comment further.”

Mrs Lloyd-Jenkins has worked at Ysgol Gymraeg Ffwrnes for 23 years, taking up a post at the school in 1996.

She has been the headteacher there for almost 20 years, taking over the role in 2000. She has also worked as a peer inspector at Estyn, the education and training inspectorate for Wales confirmed.

According to one local councillor, ‘serious concerns’ have been raised about the school in recent months.

“Local residents and parents have approached us raising serious concerns about the school in question,” said Carmarthenshire councillor Rob James.

“We are in dialogue with senior council officers to assert whether the allegations are credible and what action the council and governors have taken in response to these allegations.”

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Dyfed-Powys Police numbers at record low, say Labour

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POLICE officers based across the Dyfed-Powys area are now at their lowest levels in the last decade, with over 300 officers being lost across the region, claim Carmarthenshire Labour.

According to a freedom of information request by Carmarthenshire Labour, police officers based across Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion are down 42% and are at record lows in both Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion.

The figures published by Dyfed-Powys Police show that Carmarthenshire has lost 160 officers in the last ten years, Pembrokeshire is down 107 officers and Ceredigion has lost 56 bobbies on the beat.

These figures come off the back of a poor report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary that shows the force has gone backwards in the last year, with crime also on the increase.

HMIC’s recent PEEL (Police effectiveness, efficiency and legitimacy) report noted concerns about Dyfed-Powys Police’s performance in keeping people safe and reducing crime and specifically warned of failures to assess all incidents of domestic abuse.

Carmarthenshire Labour Leader Cllr Rob James claims that the figures show that the current Police and Crime Commissioner is now performing worse than their predecessor.

Rob James stated: “These figures that show a dramatic decrease in police numbers are extremely worrying and reinforce what communities are saying across Dyfed Powys – there are simply not enough police officers in our areas.

“The fact that we now have lower police numbers in the three counties compared to the end of the last Police and Crime Commissioner’s term with crime now on the rise illustrates that the Plaid Cymru Commissioner is failing in his duty to protect our communities.

“We need urgent action to make our communities safe once more, as there is a clear link between the loss of youth provision and cuts to officer numbers, and the rise of crime in our communities.

“There is little evidence that our Commissioner has grasped the nettle over the last three years in tackling this important issue.”

These claims however, have been slapped down by Police and Crime Comissioner, Dafydd Llewellyn. He said that said that Cllr James had misunderstood or misrepresented the information provided to him.
The Carmarthen data have a significant rider attached to them.

The explanatory note reads: ‘It should be noted that the figures for Carmarthenshire police division between 2008 and 2018 are not comparable as the structure of Carmarthenshire division in 2018 has altered to that of 2008 which has impacted upon the figures provided’.

That explanation is expanded upon concerning the Ceredigion data. Regarding them, an explanatory note warns that: ‘[T]he structures between 2008 and 2019 are not comparable as some sections that were recorded divisionally now come under the HQ remit, e.g. the Road Policing Unit, CID, etc.’.

Dafydd Llewelyn pointed out that note in his response to The Herald: “As outlined in the response to the Freedom of Information request, structures between 2008 and 2019 are not comparable as some sections that were recorded as divisionally based are now recorded under the HQ remit, for example, Roads Policing Unit, CID.”

Dafydd Llewelyn continued: “Since taking up my role as the elected person to represent the many communities across the four counties served by the force, I have increased the overall resource available by 4%. I have ploughed funding into dedicated teams to support front line officers and have invested in resources to support the most vulnerable in our communities.

“I have commissioned services specific to their needs – be that as victims of domestic abuse or young people choosing to leave their homes for reasons unknown to authorities. I will continue to do this. I will not be held to account by numbers on paper alone, but by the difference I can make to individuals’ quality of life.

“I will also use the opportunity I have to campaign for services appropriate to the very specific needs an area the size of Dyfed-Powys Police has and will work with the force to adapt according to those needs.”

He concluded by pointing out: “Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire and Powys remain the safest counties nationally and I’m proud to be driving a service that is willing and able to flex and respond, despite the financial challenges faced day-in-day-out.”

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