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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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Public Services Board seeks views to improve local well-being

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CARMARTHENSHIRE’S Public Services Board (PSB) is seeking residents’ views to find out what matters to them and their local communities.

The PSB has developed its Well-being Objectives and draft actions to deliver them, based on feedback received on its Well-being Assessment. The results of a survey at that time gathered views and helped shape the PSB’s understanding of the economic, social, environmental, and cultural factors that impact the well-being of individuals and communities within Carmarthenshire.

Once again, residents are being asked to contribute to help public service partners develop Carmarthenshire’s Local Well-being Plan for 2023-28.

To help shape the future of well-being please visit: Current Consultations (gov.wales)

The survey closes on 25 January 2023.

Cllr Darren Price, Chair of the Carmarthenshire PSB and Leader of Carmarthenshire County Council, said: “To deliver what is important to our communities, we need to their feedback and input. This survey is an opportunity for our residents to tell us if we, as public services, are on the right track to help create a better future for our children’s generation, and the generations to follow, as we strive to reach this goal.” 

Andrew Cornish, Vice-Chair of the PSB andChief Executive Officer / Principal of Coleg Sir Gar and Coleg Ceredigion said: “Thank you to everyone who has contributed to our work so far. Our Well-being Assessment gives us a strong foundation on which to build our Well-being Plan and I would like to encourage everyone to take part in our involvement work for the preparation of the Plan.”

Carmarthenshire’s Public Services Board is a partnership of public and third sector organisations working together to improve well-being across the county and includes Carmarthenshire County Council, Hywel Dda University Health Board, Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service, Natural Resources Wales and other organisations.

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Llanelli prepares for Sunday’s Remembrance Day parade

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LATER TODAY (Sunday, November 13) the town will honour those who have fallen in service over the decades.

A number of roads will be closed on the day, including Murray Street, Church Street and Vauxhall Road from its junction with the mini roundabout.

These will be shut for the parade between 8.30am and noon, however, pedestrian access for those wishing to reach individual properties in those streets will be maintained where possible throughout the duration of the closure.

Traffic will be diverted to Robinson Street, Arthur Street, Columbia Row, Anne Street, Bigyn Road, Stepney Place, Water Street, Thomas Street and Gelli Onn.

At 10am, police, organisations and others not marching in the parade will take up their respective positions in front of the cenotaph in the town hall grounds, while the civic party will assemble inside Llanelli Town Hall.

At 10.15am the parade leaves Drill Hall for the town hall with the mayor Cllr Philip Warlow proceeding to the Boer War Memorial where he will lay a wreath.

When the parade arrives at the town hall, the civic party will proceed to the cenotaph where the Lord Lieutenant of Dyfed Sara Edwards, will lay a wreath.

This will be followed by the chair of Carmarthenshire Council Cllr Rob Evans, laying a wreath on the Royal Welch War Memorial and then on the town’s cenotaph.

More wreaths will be laid by dignitaries and politicians and ex-servicemen and women A two-minute silence will then be observed at 11am.

Any service groups or individuals who wish to lay a wreath on Remembrance Sunday can contact Paul Wickers via email at llanlva2009@aol.com.

While community organisations are to contact Llanelli Town Council at enquiries@llanellitowncouncil.gov.uk.

Contact should be made by Monday, October 31 at the very latest to confirm arrangements as no additional wreaths will be able to be accommodated on the day.

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Community

Llanelli choir launches fundraising naked calendar

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MEMBERS of a Llanelli female choir have bared all to raise money for the town’s Ty Bryngwyn Hospice.  

Côr Curiad has created a cheeky fundraising calendar for 2023 – the second one they have done.

With around 50 members, photos were taken across Llanelli with strategically placed items to spare their blushes – all in the name of a good cause.

Llanelli photographer Graham Harries was behind the lens for the project.

The choir’s musical director Alex Esney, who is Miss December in the calendar said: “Local businesses sponsored the calendar and so many of the photos were taken at their premises.

“So for example we went to LTC Mobility Ltd and had scooters carefully positioned in front of us, it was a lot of fun.

“I also want to thank Ffwrnes Theatre for opening up especially for me to go and have my photo taken with the piano there.”

Alex said the aim is to raise as much as possible for the hospice, adding: “We did a calendar a few years ago but we now have more members so we thought it was time to do it all again.

“The ladies decided to ‘bare all’ to raise money for the hospice which provides such great care and support for families in their time of need, including two of our own.

“I think we pulled out all the stops this year, getting their clothes off at local businesses in and around Llanelli.”

One of the calendar photos (Images: Graham Harries Photography)
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