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?
Mark Drakeford says: ‘Thank you Wales for going red’
LABOUR is staying in power in Wales after matching its best-ever Senedd election result. It won exactly half of the 60 seats in the Welsh Parliament with all results now declared
Labour has 30 seats, with the Conservatives on 16, Plaid Cymru on 13 and the Liberal Democrats one.
Mark Drakeford thanked Wales for “going red” and has vowed to be “radical” and “ambitious” in government, as Labour looks to solidify its leadership in Wales.
Labour’s Vaughan Gething, health minister in the Welsh government, told the media that the party didn’t “have to look at a formal coalition” because they had done so well.
“We do, however, have to talk to other groups within the Senedd,” he said.
Mr Gething said Labour had a “strong mandate to govern” with 30 of the Senedd’s 60 seats.
The Wales Green Party failed to win a seat in the Senedd elections but they say they recorded their highest-ever result in Wales. Leader Anthony Slaughter said the “results demonstrate the appetite for change” across Wales.
Amelia Womack, deputy leader of the Green Party, said: “We seem to be getting votes from all of the parties and support on that regional list as people increase their knowledge of the voting system.”
Adam Price, who held Carmarthen East and Dinefwr with a reduced majority, said he would not stand down as Plaid Cymru leader.
Despite no gains, Mr Price said the party had increased its share of the vote and its stance on independence had been a “net positive”.
“I’m not walking away from anything, because this is the moment when Wales needs leadership,” he said.
“This is a historic challenge, because of the way that the politics is moving in this island, but it’s also a historic opportunity for us.
“We can move our nation forward and I’m looking forward to playing my part, it’s not something that anyone can do on their own.
“I have a role to play, we all have a role to play and that’s what’s exciting about politics at the moment. Wales is on the move Wales is on the march. I’m going to be part of that.”
Later, on social media, Adam Price said: ” I extend my congratulations to Mark Drakeford on securing a mandate to lead the next government. Although disappointed not to be returning more Members to the Senedd, I am proud that we ran a positive campaign based on a transformational programme.
“Our Senedd group will bring renewed energy and fresh ideas and I look forward to working with all my colleagues as we continue to build the case for independence. We will be a constructive but forensic opposition as we enter a crucial period of pandemic recovery.
“However, the sixth Senedd will be poorer without one of Wales’s most remarkable politicians. No one has given more to the party or to her community than Leanne Wood – an inspiring role model for so many.
“Leanne’s commitment to the Rhondda is unparalleled and I know she will continue to make an important contribution to the future of our nation and the pursuit of social justice which always has and always will drive her politics.
“Westminster’s attack on devolution is only just beginning and Wales needs a plan – that plan must focus on taking our own future into our own hands so we can build a nation that is fair and free.
TORYS CLAIM BEST RESULT EVER
The Welsh Conservatives say that they have secured the party’s best ever result in a Senedd election, winning 16 seats in the Welsh Parliament.
In a statement to the press the party said: “Today’s final election results have seen the Welsh Conservatives secure two regional list seats in both South Wales Central and South Wales East.
“Welsh Conservatives polled 289,802 votes (share up 5.0) across 40 constituencies – 26.1% of the vote – winning eight seats including gains in both the Vale of Clwyd and Brecon and Radnorshire.
“On the five regional lists, Welsh Conservatives secured 278,560 votes (share up 6.3), winning eight seats. The result will see the Senedd return its first ever female from a BAME background, with Welsh Conservatives’ Natasha Asghar making history with election in South Wales East.
Commenting, Welsh Conservative Senedd leader, Andrew RT Davies said: “Firstly, I’d like to say a huge thank you to our outstanding set of Welsh Conservative candidates, activists and staff who’ve worked incredibly hard throughout this campaign and secured the party’s best ever Senedd result.
“The team has gone above and beyond and deserve great credit for the positive campaign we’ve run right across Wales, and I am thrilled to see Natasha Asghar make history in South Wales East by becoming the first female from a BAME background to be elected to the Senedd.
“As a party we are also delighted to have secured constituency seats in the Vale of Clwyd and Brecon and Radnorshire, and increased seats on the regional lists, resulting in our highest ever representation in the Senedd with 16 members.
“It’s been an unconventional campaign and it’s clear incumbency and continuity has played a significant part. To that end, I would like to offer my sincere congratulations to Mark Drakeford and Welsh Labour on a successful campaign.
“The election has been fought in good spirit by political parties in Wales and I would like to pay a final word of thanks to the many officials across the country who’ve allowed this election to take place in a safe and effective manner.”
IMPACT OF PANDEMIC
Ian Price, director of CBI Wales, congratulated Labour. He said: “This is a critical time for the Welsh economy and the new parliament must have a laser-like focus on rebuilding from the devastating impact of the pandemic,” he said.
“That means all parties pulling together and working with business to protect jobs, rebuild livelihoods and create a fair and sustainable recovery that addresses the longstanding structural challenges our economy faces.”
Royal Town Planning Institute, largest professional body for town planners in the UK and Europe, commented on the election result saying: “The Welsh Labour Manifesto meets many of the issues raised by the RTPI, including tackling climate action, investing in public transport and active travel, and the delivery of quality affordable homes, including a focus on strengthening Welsh language communities.
“The manifesto commits to strengthening the autonomy and effectiveness of local government to make them more successful in delivering services. We have highlighted the need to invest in planning services to enable the delivery of Welsh Labour’s priorities.”
Speaking to the BBC, political commentator Prof Roger Awan-Scully said: “I think it’s been an astonishingly resilient performance by the Welsh Labour Party, amidst disasters for Labour elsewhere in the UK.
“The Conservatives are also performing strongly, but not quite bringing it home in terms of the number of constituency victories that they might have expected.
“For Plaid Cymru I think this has to be said to be a deeply disappointing election.”
Police appeal following assault in Llys Glan Y Mor
POLICE in Llanelli are investigating an assault which occurred in the vicinity of St Davids Close and Llys Glan Y Mor, Llanelli sometime between 9.00pm on Saturday 10th April and 1.30am on Sunday 11th April 2021.
A 45-year-old male was taken to hospital with facial injuries.
Officers have carried out all possible lines of enquiry, and are now appealing for help from the public.
They would like to identify the people in the CCTV image, who may have information that could help the investigation.
Anyone who knows who the people are, or if you believe you are pictured, contact Dyfed-Powys Police either online at: bit.ly/DPPContactOnline, by emailing email@example.com, or by calling 101. If you are deaf, hard of hearing, or speech impaired text the non-emergency number on 07811 311 908. Quote reference DPP/0006/11/04/2021/01/C.
Police trace burglar who left trail of oil leading to his home
A MAN was charged with burglary after leaving a trail of oil from a stolen generator leading police from a victim’s home to his own.
Dyfed-Powys Police officers were able to quickly trace Dominic William Oliver after he went on an overnight burglary spree in Burry Port in March.
The force received reports of two garage burglaries and a theft from a car overnight on Monday, March 8, with a generator, fishing rods, and two bags containing passports among the stolen items.
The combined value of the items taken was estimated to be around £800.
Sergeant Gemma Davies said: “An officer attended the victims’ homes, and was made aware of a trail of oil, which was believed to have come from the stolen generator.
“She followed it along several streets – one of which was where Oliver had stolen two bags from a car – and discovered that it ended outside a property on Dandorlan Road.
“Oliver agreed to a voluntary search being carried out, and as officers entered the property they immediately noticed a rucksack with a distinctive pattern that had been described by one of the victims.”
The search was completed, with further items suspected to have been stolen recovered from the address, and the 31-year-old was arrested on suspicion of burglary within six hours of the incidents being reported.
While being conveyed to police custody, Oliver made a significant comment linking him to the theft of the generator.
He was charged with two counts of burglary and one theft, and appeared at Swansea Crown Court for sentencing on Friday, April 30.
He was sentenced to 12 months in prison suspended for 18 months, must complete a rehabilitation requirement, and must remain at his home address between 8pm and 6am for three months.
Sgt Davies said: “This was an excellent response, which resulted in the swift arrest and charge of Oliver, and the recovery and return of stolen property to the victims the same day the offences were reported to us.
“This has no doubt had a positive impact on the residents of Burry Port, who have commented positively on how the matter was investigated.
“Community engagement, patrols and a crime prevention leaflet drop was carried out following the investigation to offer reassurance and advice.”