Gone but not forgotten: Former mayor of Llanelli Bill Thomas (right)

HE may have retired from local politics but he just won’t go away. Cllr Bill Thomas has added his voice of reason and experience to the debate, which has been sparked by the announcement that the Llanelli Town Council is to fund 50% 0f the running costs of Parc Howard. A whopping £100,000, which the Town Council say they have budgeted for in the precept for 2018. In effect the precept was £800k last year and it is £900k this year.

We recently reported on Parc Howard being looked after by a new group, The Parc Howard Collaboration Group (PHCG).

The park and museum will continue to be managed and maintained by Carmarthenshire County Council on behalf of the people of Llanelli and the wider area, with support from the Town Council.

The PHCG will also continue to work alongside The Park Howard Association, The Friends of Llanelli Museum and Llanelli Community Heritage. The joint Committee will oversee joint management of Parc Howard and the Museum.

In 2014 the County Council sought expressions of interest from local councils or groups to take over management of parks and playgrounds as part of a county-wide asset transfer programme. No expressions of interest were received for Parc Howard and the park was taken off the list of assets available for transfer.

The PHCG is made up of four councillors from each organisation and follows a decision by Llanelli Town Council to fund 50 per cent of the county council’s running costs of the facilities from April 1, 2018.

Just exactly where will the Town Council take the 50% from? What will we get for our money? And will we be paying twice for the same service and facility? These are the questions we received from members of the public.

We asked the Town Council these and more questions relating to the decision to fund 50% of the costs.

On what did Llanelli Town Council base its decision to meet 50% of the running costs of Parc Howard?

The Town Council has been in discussion with Carmarthenshire County Council for some time in relation to the management of Parc Howard. The County Council Head of Property addressed Council on the 6th June 2017 and a series of joint meetings have taken place between County and Town Councillors since September 2017.

These meetings provided a basis of communication to enable the Town Council to put forward their views in relation to the current management of the park. The intention from both Councils has been to work together in order to implement improvements to the park and mansion house while retaining the facility in public ownership on behalf of the Town of Llanelli and Carmarthenshire more widely.

The notes of all of these meetings have been shared in Town Council meetings as part of the meeting papers to enable informed discussion on the matter and in the decision making process. The Town Council’s view was that in order to ensure that both Councils should have an equal say in the future development and management of the Park that each Council should support the financial costs of running the facility. It was therefore agreed at the meeting held on the 7th March 2018 to put these arrangements on a formal footing with the formation of a Joint Management Committee of the County and Town Council (named the Parc Howard Collaboration Group) which would take forward discussions on the future development of the Park and its management while ensuring it remains in public use and available to the people of Llanelli and the wider area with the Town Council making a 50% contribution to the total direct revenue cost.

Were the Town Council presented with the total figure for the running costs of the park and given that the public will be footing the bill, how much would that be in pounds shillings and pence?

Throughout the discussion meetings with the County Council, they have been very forthcoming with the full financial details relating to the Park. We have received 3 financial years of figures. The overall cost of the 2016-17 year showed direct costs of £190,000 and indirect overhead costs of £105,000.

Do the Town Council still maintain their stance in objecting to a car park in the park?

The issue of the car park has been discussed at length as part of the meetings held between the Town and County Councils. The Town Council’s position in relation to the car park application is on record. However, each application received by the Town Council is assessed on its merits at the appropriate meeting.

Any decision on whether to proceed with a car park implementation is for the Parc Howard Collaboration Group to take. Town Council representatives would be guided by the decisions of the Town Council. The car park is however noted as an item that is currently ‘parked’ and not a priority for the Group.

Will the new organisation be democratic and have any say in the decision making regarding the commercial development of the park and ensuing financial costs or will this remain the prerogative of the County Council, given that it is their asset?

The Parc Howard Collaboration Group is fully democratic with 4 members attending on behalf of each Council. Cllr Peter Hughes-Griffiths (Executive Board Member for Culture, Sport and Tourism) has been elected as the Chairman of the Group. All decisions in relation to the management and development of Parc Howard (including commercial development) will be made via this group.

Could the Town Council assure the public that no additional costs will be incurred through irresponsible spending, which in turn would be met by an increase in the precept?

The Town Council has an excellent record in relation to the management of public funds and its representatives on this Group will always work to ensure at all times that any spending decisions are affordable and costed accurately.

Monthly financial reports will be provided to the Group on Parc Howard expenditure. This information will be closely monitored by the Group.

Could the Town Council assure the public that they will not enter into negotiations with any commercial companies without the due diligence checks, which would allow unscrupulous companies to establish themselves at the park?

Any Commercial proposals in relation the Park will be brought before the Parc Howard Collaboration Group and discussed fully with authorisation from the Group to any agreements being made. Any proposals would be considered carefully by the Group with advice sought from officers as appropriate.

Why has it taken so long for the Town Council to come to this decision given that they were offered the asset many years ago?

Llanelli Town Council takes its responsibilities to the Town and People of Llanelli very seriously. Decisions are not taken lightly with all evidence and information taken into account. The Town Council has therefore carefully considered the position and options available in relation to Parc Howard and held extensive discussions with the County Council prior to making this decision.

Could you please supply any supporting information or direct me to any minutes -documents, which have contributed to the final decision, i.e. Financial assessments, risk assessments, contract details.

This matter has been considered by Council to be confidential in view of the nature of the business discussed. The issue has therefore been considered at meetings in private under the power of exclusion of the public under Section 1(2) of the Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act, 1960. Other than the minutes of the Town Council meetings where the issue has been considered (which are available on-line), the documents relating to the matter are therefore not currently available to be shared.

We also contacted the County Council and asked them the following questions.

What are the running costs of the park? Could you provide a figure for 2015-16 and 2016-17?

The running costs of the park and museum are around £200,000 per annum. This includes staff costs and running costs (utilities / rates / cleaning / routine maintenance etc) of the museum and park,

Could you provide a breakdown on what these costs are attributed to?

The agreed arrangement from 1/4/18 is for the County Council and the Town Council to pay £100,000 each. The Town Council’s 50% contribution was agreed as part of the Town Council’s budget earlier in the year.

Do you have visitor numbers for the park for the same period? if so could you supply the figures?

How much money from the public purse contributes to the costs of running the park?

Could you clarify whether or not the running costs of the park are paid for from the money the council receives from residents covering the whole of Carmarthenshire including Llanelli?

Could you clarify if you have any agreement with the Llanelli Town Council for any financial contributions to be taken from their funds from the precept and if so, what arrangements have been made to inform the residents of Llanelli who in effect would be paying twice for the facility.

Until the current financial year, the whole of the running costs were paid by the County Council, from taxpayers throughout Carmarthenshire. From this year, residents of Llanelli Town will be paying half the costs and residents of Carmarthenshire will be paying the remaining half of the costs. Unlike most parks and playgrounds, which are now being managed locally, residents outside Llanelli are still contributing to part of the running costs of Parc Howard.

Does the council have a business plan for the park, which will ensure its long term future?

Does the council have any plans to section of any areas of the park for lease or sale and if so could you identify, which areas they would be?

The new Parc Howard Collaboration Group will be developing a business plan for the park; there are no proposals to lease or sell any parts of the park.

We pressed the county council for an answer on whether Llanelli residents were paying twice for the park.

We received the following response from Jonathan Fearn: “Now Carmarthenshire Residents will be paying £100K and Llanelli Town Residents £100K

“Yes, a Llanelli Resident will be paying slightly more and a non-Llanelli Town resident slightly less, but elsewhere in Carmarthenshire (where parks are managed locally) the whole cost will now be paid by the local Community or Town taxpayer. In the case of Parc Howard non-Llanelli Town residents are still contributing.

“This is not double-counting.”

We spoke to former Llanelli Town Mayor Bill Thomas who said that he was dumbfounded by the answer. He said: “Of course we are paying twice, well some of us are. If you live in Llanelli and are outside the 5 town wards you will only be paying once.

“It is a simple as looking at two pots on the table. One is asking for £100,000 from you if you live in the five wards of Llanelli Town and the other is asking for £100k if you live in the whole of Carmarthenshire. That applies to those people living in the five wards unless they can separate them somehow and give them a rebate. It is nonsense to claim otherwise.”

We asked the Town Council whether or not they had any answers to just how much the difference was in the payment for the people living in the 5 Town Council wards as opposed to those living outside of those wards but still living in Carmarthenshire.

We were told that the County Council would have that answer. In our reckoning one would have to divide the £100k between the whole of Carmarthenshire and work out how much per head that would be and then £100k between the population of the 5 wards and work out how much per head that would be. Add the two together and that is the total those who live in the 5 wards of the Town Council would be paying. Confused?

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