Monday, 5 October 2009

More questions raised over Carmarthenshire TV

Local Plaid politicans have raised further questions about the use of taxpayers' money to fund a television station on the internet in Carmarthenshire. The proposal has been agreed by the county council's Executive Board, led by Cllr Meryl Gravell, and by the Local Service Partnership, both of which have agreed to provide substantial amounts of money from public funds. The County Council has agreed to pay up to £30,000, not counting the time cost of officers which is likely to be substantial, and the Local Service Partnership Board has agreed to pay £10,000. The total cost has not been declared publicly, but the county council have claimed that most of the funding is coming from the Assembly Government. It is understood that other public bodies are also expected to decide to make substantial further contributions to the total cost.

The proposal to launch such a channel came from a private company based in the county who approached the various public bodies with the idea, after some councils in England launched similar schemes. Kent County Council, for instance, launched a trial service which cost a total of £1.2 million for the first two years, and a further £400,000 for the third year. Questions have now been raised by Plaid Councillors about the way in which the proposal has been developed.

Plaid's leader on the council, Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths, wrote to the Assistant Chief Executive asking why a formal tendering process had not been followed. He said, "For almost everything the council does, we have to go through a formal tendering process, so that a range of suppliers have an opportunity to offer their services, and so that the council can obtain best value for money. Yet, in this case, it seemed to me that there had been no attempt to ascertain whether there are other companies which could provide the service. The impression given was that the contract had simply been awarded to the first company which suggested the idea. I am pleased to hear that this impression is in fact completely erroneous. Although one particular company approached the council suggesting the idea, I have been reassured that, should all the relevant bodies decide to go ahead with the scheme in principle, there will then be a competitive process to decide which company is awarded the contract.

“We as a group think that the whole idea is badly flawed, and is a waste of taxpayers' money; but if the council is determined to get involved in this scheme, they should, at the very least, follow their own normal processes of competitive tendering. Apart from anything else, that gives us all a further opportunity to try and prevent the council from participating in this scheme. And one key question which should be answered, but has not been answered to date, is what the total cost of this scheme is, to be paid from public funds, from all the different bodies involved."

Questions have also been raised about the funding from the Welsh Assembly Government. Nerys Evans, Plaid's regional AM for the area said that she would be raising questions with the Assembly Government on this matter. "At a time when there are likely to be cuts in local government spending, it seems very strange to me," said Ms Evans, "that the Assembly Government should be diverting funds from front line services into a television service. I am asking the relevant ministers how much money is being provided, which budgets it is being taken from, and how the contracts will be awarded."

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