(Title Image: Auditel via Bridgend Council)
The 90-minute meeting was webcast and you can watch it here.
Community Asset Transfer “too complex and under-resourced”
Speaking on behalf of the Scrutiny Committee, Cllr. Tim Thomas (Plaid, Ynysawdre) summarised their conclusions. The main reasons for referring the decision back to Cabinet were concerns over the Community Asset Transfer (CAT) process. CAT was described as a “complex and under-resourced” process for clubs which are made up largely of volunteers – who might not understand the complex legal issues involved. Tondu Robins FC told him the decision would have “insurmountable consequences”.
There were also concerns over how long CAT takes, with only one CAT transfer taking place to date (Bryncethin RFC). It was believed there was a massive disparity between the proposed charges and the usage of the facilities, with a request for clarity over a potential fund for children’s sport.
Cabinet Member for Communities, Cllr. Richard Young (Lab, Pendre), said the CAT process has been reviewed over 12 months and “streamlined” in July 2019, meaning the committee’s recommendation was based on an old process. He accepted the fee hike is a difficult decision, but the Communties Directorate has borne the brunt of cuts.
No alternative proposals for cuts; clubs engaging with CAT process will have fees frozen
Cabinet Member for Social Services, Cllr. Phil White (Lab, Caerau), reminded Cllr. Thomas that BCBC had to find £36million in cuts and saving over the next four years. The scrutiny committee, backbench members and others can come forward with alternative cuts at any time but have offered none to date (there have been complaints on social media that opposition councillors are denied access to detailed financial information to be able to make such proposals).
Cabinet Member for Education & Regeneration, Cllr. Charles Smith (Lab, Llangewydd & Brynhyfryd), said there had been success stories with CAT including Carnegie House and the Old Police Station in Porthcawl. Community council clerks are often former BCBC employees, so the expertise to deal with the process is there. CAT should be considered “an opportunity rather than a threat” which promotes partnership and maintains autonomy of the clubs.
Chief Executive, Mark Shephard, also said no alternative budget proposals have been submitted and it’s a budget measure approved by the council as a whole. The proposed fund for children’s sport is expected to be an annual scheme worth around £75,000 aimed at helping mini and junior sports teams with costs. £1million has also been identified to support CAT by providing money to bring facilities up to scratch before transfers are agreed.
The council’s CAT Officer, Guy Smith, said there was only one sports club he hasn’t engaged with – Blaengarw Cricket Club. Discussions are ongoing to develop specific strategies for Newbridge Fields and Maesteg Welfare Park. 8 CAT transfers are on the verge of being finalised, with formal expressions of interest in a further 18 assets and 20 informal expressions of interest.
Cllr. Young, Cllr. Hywel Williams (Lab, Blackmill) and the Council Leader, Cllr. Huw David (Lab, Cefn Cribwr), confirmed a BCBC guarantee that sports clubs and organisations which fully engage with the CAT process won’t be subject to the higher charges and will have their fees frozen – even if the process is delayed for reasons beyond the club’s control.
In the absence of an alternative proposals for cuts, there was a unanimous decision by the Cabinet to uphold the original decision.