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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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£121k watersports funding announced for Llanelli beauty spot

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• Welsh Water, Natural Resources Wales, Llanelli Rural Council & Canoe Wales has secured ‘Access to Water’ funding.

• Visitors will be able to enjoy paddlesports (canoeing, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding), windsurfing and angling.

• Site expected to attract 90k+ visitors a year.

The recent announcement of the development of the Swiss Valley reservoirs in Carmarthenshire has been given a boost with the confirmation of an ‘Access to Water’ grant from Welsh Government, worth £121k, that will enable visitor access to the Lower Lleidi reservoir for paddle sports and angling.

The funding will realise plans to bring back a range of paddlesports to the reservoir, including stand-up paddle boarding, canoeing and kayaking.  It will also enable bank angling through the creation of recreational zones.  A range of improvements to the surrounding infrastructure are also planned to include a boat wash for biosecurity and the creation of paths and a pontoon that allows easy access to water for people of all abilities, and the refurbishment of toilet facilities.

Developing the Swiss Valley Reservoirs is expected to attract 90k+ visitors a year to the site, in line with Covid19 regulations. The ‘Access to Water’ funding is an important milestone in achieving shared ambitions for the site, and to support the funding application, a survey of local canoe clubs, outdoor activity providers and anglers was conducted which found a strong demand for access to the water for their activities. The feedback was that this is likely to generate a huge amount of interest from clubs and providers given it’s ideal geographical location. The community adoption scheme means that local people are offering to invest their own time to help look after this jewel of a community asset, and care for it into the future.

The project is well placed to support the delivery of The Wellbeing of Future Generations Act (Wales) 2015, which requires public bodies in Wales to think about the long-term impact of their decisions, to work better with people, communities and each other, and to prevent persistent problems such as poverty, health inequalities and climate change. Whilst Welsh Water is not a public body, it is committed to working in partnership with Llanelli Rural Council, Natural Resources Wales and Canoe Wales in the spirit of the legislation.

Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths, said: “This is an excellent example of a scheme which increases opportunities for outdoor recreation and provides safe access to water for people of all abilities.  The development of these reservoirs will enable local people and visitors to gain more enjoyment from this beauty spot in line with covid19 guidelines and help to support a green recovery in Wales.  I hope the success of this project will encourage development of many more similar opportunities over the coming years.”

Welsh Water Chief Executive Peter Perry said, “Access to blue space is proven to be positively associated with health and wellbeing. Swiss Valley is an important asset for the local community and visitors alike. This funding is a major milestone in our efforts to bring this cherished community asset back to its former glory and make it more accessible, for the health and wellbeing of everyone.”

Jen Browning, Chief Executive of Canoe Wales, the national governing body for paddlesport in Wales, added, “Over the past eight months, we have seen an unprecedented amount of demand for canoeing, kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding, but the limited number of venues in Wales suitable for new paddlers has always been a major obstacle. This funding will ensure that Swiss Valley can play an enormously important role in making it possible for people of all abilities to enjoy the water, and for many to discover a passion for paddlesport and develop a deep connection with the outdoors.”

Dave MacCallum, Specialist Advisor for Water Access & Recreation at Natural Resources Wales and Chairman of NAFW Access to Water Sub-Group said: “We are delighted to have been a part of this important collaboration which will open up these new waters for responsible, inclusive recreation in South West Wales. NRW is committed to doing all we can to enable more people to enjoy Wales’ countryside more easily and responsibly – to take advantage of the many health and wellbeing benefits that getting outside can bring. Benefitting from bespoke disabled paddle-sport access facilities and a Biosecurity station promoting and enabling the Check Clean Dry initiative, the Swiss Valley reservoir project paves the way for future access to Welsh still waters so that current and future generations can continue to enjoy their visits to some of Wales’ most spectacular landscapes”

Llanelli Rural Council Leader, Cllr Tegwen Devichand said “the funding is marvellous news for the community and will enable the council to develop its plans for the reservoir in earnest. Much of the preliminary work associated with the first phase of infrastructure improvements can now get underway, in fact some work has commenced already. The physical adaptations to refurbish the toilet block, visitor car park and access to the water to facilitate paddle sports and the angling fraternity is scheduled to be completed by March 2021, but work won’t stop there. Moreover, the community response to our plans for the reservoir has been overwhelming; the council has received a great deal of local and regional support and a number of interest groups and individuals have come forward to help us deliver our plans as well as to offer their services. This is greatly appreciated and bodes well for the future.”

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Llanelli Yodel colleague celebrates 30-year anniversary

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Beverley Smith, a valued member of the Llanelli depot’s team, is celebrating her 30-year anniversary with UK independent parcel carrier, Yodel.

Beverley joined Yodel in 1990, when it was originally known as Home Shopping Network, as an Inbound Sorter and then moved onto a Customer Service Support role over 28 years ago. Beverly supports the Llanelli Management Team, provides customer service to clients and customers alike and is always on hand to answer any driver queries.

To celebrate her anniversary, Kay Dodd, Service Centre Manager, presented Beverley with £750 of Very vouchers and ordered in a cooked breakfast to celebrate.

Customer Service Support Advisor, Beverley Smith commented: “My time with Yodel has been very fulfilling – constantly challenging – keeping me on my toes. I’ve been with the company so long that I remember having to write with a pen and paper and have to fax documents to the head office daily – I can’t say I miss those days!

“I have made many close friends during the 30 years at the business and I truly have enjoyed the hard working and happy atmosphere at Llanelli every day.”

Kay Dodd, Depot Manager, added: “Bev is a valued member of my team here at Llanelli, she provides excellent customer service to customers, clients and colleagues. She has a courteous and caring attitude and goes beyond her duties to ensure everyone has a positive experience at Yodel Llanelli. Thank you for everything Bev!”

To join Beverley and the team at Yodel’s Llanelli depot, or to find out more about working for Yodel, and the roles and training available, visit www.yodelopportunities.co.uk or text ‘Deliver’ to 84433. 

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Preparatory works to start at key Stepney Street Building

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Preparatory works are due to start on a key building in Llanelli Town Centre ahead of formal planning approval.

Number 49 Stepney Street is being redeveloped as part of a significant investment in the town centre to transform, regenerate and connect its key retails and leisure areas.

Carmarthenshire County Council has submitted plans which could see the former YMCA building retain much of its character whilst providing high quality living space and commercial units

The works would include the restoration of the front façade of the building, along with the retention of the perimeter wall, main internal structural walls and bringing back many original features such as the ornate staircase.

Subject to planning approval the rest of the building would be redeveloped to include two floors of commercial space on the ground and first floors, with eight two-bedroomed living spaces on the upper floors.

There will also be residents parking spaces on the ground floor.

The works currently underway will prepare the building for redevelopment and include stripping and clearance of old materials.

Carmarthenshire County Council leader Cllr Emlyn Dole said: “Many generations of people from Llanelli will have special memories of using this fantastic building over the years and it is such a shame to see it lay empty and falling into disrepair – we’re proud to be leading on this scheme to breathe new life into it once again.”

The council has already spent £4.5million buying empty shop units from private ownership, renovating and bringing them back in to use at affordable rental levels – all of them currently occupied by independent businesses

A Local Development Order has been put in place to simplify the planning process for property owners and potential investors

This project is being procured via the South West Wales Regional Contractors Framework. Carmarthenshire County Council has appointed a regional contractor who will develop the project alongside local supply chains.

For further information on this framework, email TSSWWRCF@carmarthenshire.gov.uk

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