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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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Station Road: Off-licence refused alcohol licence

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AN OFF-LICENCE on Llanelli’s Station Road has been refused an alcohol licence by Carmarthenshire County Council after councillors decided it could add to the area’s crime and disorder problems.

The Licensing Committee’s decision has been upheld after the applicant, who runs the shop Kubus, appealed to the courts.

The applicant, Aram Mahmood, had asked the council for permission to sell alcohol at his shop between 9am and 9pm Monday to Sunday.

However councillors felt that granting the licence would contravene the authority’s Cumulative Impact Policy, which creates a presumption against the granting of premises licences in the Station Road area, due to anti-social behaviour and alcohol-fuelled crime issues.

A Dyfed Powys Police representative said Station Road is still identified as a crime and disorder hot spot, and a Drinking in Public Places Order (DPPO) is in place.

During April 2017 and March 2018, 164 anti-social behaviour incidents were recorded in Station Road, over a quarter having occurred within licensed premises.

A fifth of all related crime and 13 per cent of all alcohol related anti-social behavior incidents recorded in Llanelli town occurred in Station Road.

Over 40 alcohol related violent crimes were also recorded there during the same period.

Although there are now fewer premises selling alcohol in Station Road, statistics show there is still a high level of alcohol related crime and disorder in the area.

The applicant told the committee that his main customers were families wishing to buy Polish and European foods and products.

He told councillors he had ordered a CCTV system and assured them that the management of alcohol would be well controlled by staff, though believed that his customers would not cause problems.

The licensing committee’s decision was upheld following the applicant’s appeal to Llanelli Magistrates Court.

Justices found that there was no evidence of exceptional reasons to justify departing from the Cumulative Impact Policy and were satisfied with the committee’s decision.

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Cllr Kevin Madge elected as new county council Chairman

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THE new chair of Carmarthenshire County Council said he will work tirelessly during his term of office.

Cllr Kevin Madge, member for Garnant, takes the chain of office whilst celebrating 40 years as a councillor.

Taking the chair, Cllr Madge paid tribute to outgoing chairman Cllr Mansel Charles, member for Llanegwad, saying he had fulfilled his duties with passion.

Cllr Madge will chair the council for the next 12 months, with Cllr Ieuan Davies, member for Llanybydder, as his vice chair, and his wife Catrin as his consort.

“I’m very much looking forward to the year ahead, I will do my best for everyone. I will work tirelessly,” he said.

Cllr Madge has chosen the Trussell Trust, which supports a nationwide network of food banks and emergency food provision for people in crisis, as his Chairman’s Charity of the Year.

The Chair is the first citizen of Carmarthenshire County Council, and is elected at the Annual General Meeting.

Duties include chairing full meetings of the council, representing the council at formal and ceremonial occasions, welcoming visitors to the county, and attending and supporting events organised by local people and organisations.

Cllr Madge has been a county councillor since 1996, and a member of Cwmaman Town Council since 1979.

He also serves as chairman of the Royal British Legion Garnant branch, Garnant Family Centre and Cwmaman Meals on Wheels, and is a member of Amman Valley League of Friends.

He represents the county council on the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority, and the Mynydd y Betws Wind Farm Community Fund, and is on the governing body of Ysgol Y Bedol.

A former pupil of Amman Valley School, Cllr Madge has worked in the Amman Valley throughout his life, most recently as agent and researcher to Dr Alan Williams MP until 2001.

A keen football supporter, he has served as chair and president of Cwmaman Football Club and spent 25 years as a Welsh League and Neath and District football referee.

He is married with two children and three grandchildren.

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‘UK Government should work with the Welsh Labour Government on Tata’

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LOCAL Assembly Member Lee Waters and Nia Griffith MP have called on the UK Government to work with the Welsh Labour Government to come up with a deal to protect steel making at Trostre, and across Wales and the UK.

Lee Waters AM met with representatives from Tata Steel on Wednesday to discuss the future for steel making at the plant following the reported collapse of the proposed joint venture with Thyssenkrupp.

During the meeting he stressed the need to protect the entire steel supply chain in Wales, including the high quality jobs at Trostre, and those that depend on its presence in Llanelli.

Lee Waters AM said “It’s clear that the support Welsh Government provided during the crisis of 2016 has been critical in getting extra investment into Port Talbot which will secure the works for years to come. However, Tata is a company run from India, and we simply don’t know what the board will decide about its future strategy. They may well be looking for a new joint venture partner, so we’ll have to vigilant about the implications for our local plants.”

“Tata has said it intends to continue with its existing business plan, and honor commitments made to the Trade Unions, so Nia and I will be keeping a close eye to make sure that happens.”

Welsh Government has been in active discussions with Tata steel following the collapse of the merger with Thyssenkrupp. In a written statement and during questions on Wednesday, the Welsh Government committed to invest in Welsh steel to protect its future and is looking at a range of measures to assist on energy costs, business rates and procurement of steel for public sector contracts.

Lee Waters AM said “The Welsh Government have given significant support to the steel industry here but it can’t do everything, and we now need the UK Government to work with them to ensure a future for skilled work in the steel industry in Llanelli and elsewhere in Wales.”

Nia Griffith AM said ““This latest news from Tata means yet more uncertainty for steelworkers. Their announcement about keeping Port Talbot is a start, but now we need real commitment from Tata on Trostre.

“We also need close cooperation from the company with the Trade Unions. Lee Waters AM and I will be urging the UK Government to follow Welsh Government in doing everything possible to secure the future of our steel industry.”

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