ONE of the key partners of the £1.3 billion city deal for the Swansea Bay City Region did not want it to succeed for “selfish” and “petty” reasons, according to an angry council chief executive.
Carmarthenshire Council’s Mark James did not name the organisation, but said “we have had people out there going out of their way, perhaps, to make sure it (the city deal) didn’t happen”.
Mr James went on to advise executive board members that it would be “hugely manageable” for the authority to deliver its city deal projects on its own, if councillors were minded to go down that route.
But he said: “I am convinced we can get it (the city deal) back on track.”
It was the second public attack on elements of the city deal by Mr James, who is leaving the council in June, in a fortnight.
The deal’s heads of terms were signed off in March, 2017, with 11 projects agreed in principle for Neath Port Talbot, Swansea, Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire.
None of the £241 million contribution from the UK and Welsh Governments has been released as yet.
Mr James said it had taken “an inordinate amount of time” to set up a joint working agreement between the 10 public sector partners, which include four universities and health boards.
Aspects of this overarching governance and compliance have, however, been critcised in two recent reviews.
Mr James said partnership working was wonderful, until a partner was “slightly unwilling”.
He added: “We had a partner who would have been quite happy for it (the city deal) not to go ahead for their own selfish, petty reasons.
“I am saying this publicly, and I mean it – selfish, petty reasons that they did not want this to succeed.”
Mr James said Carmarthenshire and Swansea councils were the driving forces of the city deal.
He said: “Without us, it would not be going anywhere at all.”
But the councils were, in his view, being “held in subjugation” by the two Governments.
Mr James also said he felt it was “absolutely preposterous” for the Welsh Government to be holding potentially £32 million of Government funding for the city deal when one of the projects – the Yr Egin creative cluster in Carmarthen – was completed.
Carmarthenshire’s flagship city deal project is the £200 million Llanelli Wellness Village for Delta Lakes.
Suspensions last year of Swansea University employees, who had links to this project, led to what Mr James described as everyone running “for the hills”.
The council remains determined to deliver the Delta Lakes project on time.
Councillor David Jenkins said he would be happy for the authority to deliver the wellness village independently if it could afford to.
Mr James said borrowing repayments paid over a long period would not be too onerous.
“I see no reason why we could not do this,” the chief executive said. “We have done much bigger things ourselves.”
Council leader Emlyn Dole said changes to the city deal governance structure were taking place following the two reviews, and that things had improved.
He reiterated that the wellness village was “not on hold”, and should happen “as quickly as possible”.
But Cllr Dole said he felt a “sense of unfairness” that other city deals had received some money up front.
Mr James said: “If Cardiff had asked for it, they would have had it yesterday.”
Executive board members agreed to changes in governance arrangements, where appropriate, being delegated to the leader, chief executive and two other senior officers.
But these would not include any material change to the council’s legal and financial obligations.
Speaking a fortnight ago, Swansea Council leader Rob Stewart said he was hopeful that the Governments would release funding shortly following a face-to-face meeting between officials.
The Welsh Government declined to respond, while the UK Government said of the first two city deal projects coming for sign-off: “For Yr Egin and Swansea Waterfront, the two business cases which we consider are close to final approval, senior UK Government and Welsh Government and local authority officials should aim to reach a swift conclusion to ensure that funding can flow as needed.”